Does Windows Phone 7 make sense in the enterprise?

As company budgets get refreshed and users' mobile devices age, talk of Windows Phone 7 may run rampant in your enterprise. But does Microsoft's new smartphone make sense from an IT or a business standpoint? Probably not yet.

In its current form, Windows Phone 7 (WP7) is a consumer device -- not an exclusive business tool. According to Microsoft's TechEd blog:

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It's important to note that Windows Phone 7 (WP7) primarily was developed as a consumer device and not an enterprise device. As a result there [sic] many of the enterprise oriented features we had in Windows Mobile 6.x aren't available in WP7.

Microsoft also lists which Exchange ActiveSync policies WP7 supports on its TechNet blog. These policies define how phones can connect to Exchange and its attendant resources, including secure certificate and encryption support, the ability to remotely wipe lost or stolen devices, pass phrase challenges and more. The initial release of WP7 doesn't support more than a few important Exchange ActiveSync policies.

This lack of policy support is in stark contrast to how much of corporate America has standardized on the BlackBerry. That smartphone has centralized management capabilities, strong security and encryption options, and capabilities for employers to have a degree of control over employee phones. 

Therefore, the BlackBerry or another mobile platform might still be the best fit for many -- but not necessarily all -- shops.

Whether your employees like it or not, it's likely that sensitive corporate information is passed over the air to their smartphones. Best practices for information management dictate that devices for consuming and responding to that data have enterprise-grade security. This is why many IT departments have shunned -- or been slow to adopt -- the iPhone, which is primarily a consumer device. Only its second and third revisions include some business features, namely ActiveSync support.

However, it's not fair to say that WP7 is only suitable for consumer stuff like music downloads, Facebook and Twitter.

For example, its Office applications are arguably among of the finest mobile apps out there. In particular, OneNote integrates so well with both the desktop version of the program and the Windows Live SkyDrive service that you'd think the whole arrangement was magical. And the mobile Outlook application is a competent road warrior's companion. It even includes convenient features like an "I'm running late" button on a calendar entry.

But step back a moment and think about the larger picture. Microsoft's focus -- and, as most would argue, its strong suit -- has traditionally been on the enterprise market. The company's cornerstone Office product demonstrates its attention to the white-collar crowd rather than the consumers that Apple and Sony target with glamorous gadgets. Microsoft has added centralized management and policy functions to each release of Windows, especially on the server side. This approach, for better or worse, has translated into commercial success.

Microsoft's newest mobile platform includes only a subset of the business-oriented features available not only from competitive phone manufacturers but also Microsoft's own previous Windows Mobile phones. And it forces IT departments to ask, "Is Windows Phone 7 right for my employees? Should I embrace this version? Should my future mobile device strategy include WP7?"

The answers aren't so clear cut -- and may even be no.

Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. Jonathan's books include RADIUS, Hardening Windows and most recently Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.

This was first published in December 2010

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