Amtrak Turns to iPhone: Business Use of Apple Products Expanding
IT managers have long been aware that Apple's top priority is consumers and not enterprise buyers, but little by little, products like the iPhone have made their presence known in the business world, and not simply as a means for making phone calls. According to a recent article in The New York Times, Amtrak conductors are among the latest business users of Apple's smartphone, with 1,700 conductors slated to begin using the phones to scan electronic tickets, track passengers and seating, and even manage on-train equipment.
The old Amtrak ticketing system was largely manual. The conductor examined the printed passenger ticket and punched a hole in it. The information on the punched ticket was entered into a database at a later time. For conductors, this posed problems related to tracking boarded passengers and managing seating requirements. No-show passengers, for example, created unused seats that could be filled, but only if the conductor correctly guessed the number of unused seats that were available. By contrast, the new system allows passengers to book electronic tickets and load a bar code onto their smartphones. The conductor can then scan the passenger's bar code and manage seating in real-time.
The growing popularity of Apple's handheld devices seen by midsize business may be due in part to the availability of mobile device management software. This software may ease the burden faced by IT by providing some level of comfort and help regarding both security concerns and content management.
A recent Government Technology article describes some of the ongoing security concerns that IT managers have with Apple devices and acknowledges that while mobile devices need to have firewalls and anti-malware, security concerns may simply be "overblown." The article quotes blogger Michael Rose as saying, "It's like asking for a firewall for your toaster." While Rose's opinion may be slightly hyperbolic, there are a growing number of security solutions that make it feasible to include all sorts of mobile devices in the workplace.
Likewise, content management for mobile devices has traditionally been more difficult for IT to control, largely because the data exists in pieces and is widely dispersed--living, as it were, in the pockets and purses of employees. Mobile data also consists of a broader type than data in the enterprise. It includes SMS data and even Tweets, all of which must be considered from the perspective of regulatory compliance and company policy. However, IT may be becoming more familiar with these types of challenges as mobile devices in the workplace become more prevalent. With the right kinds of tools, mobile data can be effectively controlled and managed, just like any other enterprise data.
But even with the support of good mobile device management software, perhaps the most troubling aspect of Apple and other mobile device manufacturers' growing presence in business is the consumer-focused rapid cycling of newer, faster, and more powerful "must-have" devices. It's an upgrade cycle that most midsized businesses simply can't afford to keep up with. Whether Apple's iPhone will gain a significant foothold in businesses is not the burning question, but how industry can influence Apple's approach to serving the long-term needs of the enterprise. That will ultimately determine how business can best use consumer-grade devices to its advantage.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.