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Control Issues

Yesterday I wrote about a startup called DiVitas, which claims to provide a dual WiFi-cellular solution for mobile phones that puts control over the technology in the hands of enterprise IT managers, rather than those of carriers. When I spoke with DiVitas CEO Vivek Khuller today, he differed with me on one point – my contention that DiVitas presents a direct threat to carriers. In fact, says Khuller, a system like DiVitas "de-couples" carrier-based technology from carrier-based business services, giving enterprises control over the former and carriers revenue from the latter.

In fact, Khuller describes his business model in terms of an eternal Manichean struggle for control, not only between the enterprise and the carriers but between IT managers and users.

"There has always been a fight between end-users and IT managers," says Khuller. "When you join a company and you find a phone sitting on your desk, do you expect to be able to argue with IT over what kind of phone it is, whether it's from Cisco or Nortel or Avaya, and say 'I don't like this phone, I want to change it'? Never happens.

"With your mobile phone it's different. You could be a Nokia guy and I'm a Motorola guy. People get fanatical about their mobile phones, and you're not going to like it if IT tells you you have to change."

At the end of the day, Khuller adds, IT managers don't care what sort of mobile device you carry. But they care deeply about what you do with it, what sort of applications you use on it, and what corporate data you download onto it. By its nature, the job of IT management is one of maintaining control. And that control is rapidly leaking away as more and more workers "self-mobilize," as it were, buying BlackBerries or Treos for themselves, working remotely from public WiFi hotspots, using feature-rich cellphones in ways not covered by basic enterprise information-management policies.

The conflict looks to get worse, as companies scramble to keep up with proliferating mobile technologies and users seeking new forms of communication and new ways to integrate their workdays with their lifestyles.

Startups like DiVitas, and companies like BMC Software Inc., Consul, and LANDesk Software Inc. – makers of "discovery" software that resides at the enterprise network gateway and monitors computers that log on to check for compliance, configurations, applications, and so on – give enterprise IT managers tools to maintain some control over the flood of mobile devices and solutions that will pour over them in the next few years. This is bound to be a growing market segment, meeting a growing demand for regulation and visibility from beleaguered IT managers trying to provide employees with the mobility and flexibility they demand, without totally surrendering control.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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