Oh, what the heck, let's make it three for three on iPhone posts in a row.
ZDNet's Larry Dignan posted an article this morning on the potential ROI case for the iPhone in the business and how the CIO might go about examining this and comparing it to RIM and other existing handheld messaging heavyweights. While I don't doubt there are some CIOs who will do so, I also think that approach is a mistaken representation of how Apple hopes to penetrate the business market, and represents a somewhat outdated and disappearing approach to dealing with smaller, personal communication devices in the enterprise.
As I intimated yesterday, I think it's actually the other corporate officers, as well as the tech-fetish corporate grunts, who will be hauling these things into work and getting them up and running. This is an increasingly common tactic for vendors seeking to penetrate the enterprise; appeal to users or CEOs, make the technology easy enough for them to implement in a guerilla fashion, and present the whole transition to the CIO as fait accompli. This isn't entirely new; the PC originally entered many a large business out of an individual departmental budget, under the nose of the mini-computing IT department which wanted nothing to do with the costly little beasts. We've seen it more recently in Web 2.0 SaaS applications and wireless access points. There may or may not be an ROI case to be made for them, but it's probably beside the point; ROI is what you end up using when you're trying to get users to swallow bad medicine. It's not something you need when they already want and demand the toy.
All of this suggests a battleapproaching over the device, but this probably isn't the case. Apple fans have been rabid for a long while now, and Macs have been able to work with Exchange servers and other Microsoft systems for quite a while, and you still don't see significant corporate penetration from them.
What you do see, though, are more and more people able to use their Macs on the down low, because the interoperability now happens at a level sufficiently removed from the technical realm that IT need not be involved. While the devices aren't officially supported, they will often just work. And I think that's the future, and CIOs that take the lesson to heart with this matter will reap dividends in the long run. As I posted on Larry's blog:
Morever, while your points about ROI, single-vendor support, and TCO are all good, don't you think that sooner or later the enterprise is going to have to grow out of its "one size fits all" approach to small, personal electronic devices? I am increasingly pushing companies toward SOA-like platforms which generically support delivery of standards-based services, rather than platform-based devices. If you want to talk about an ROI-sink, consider the hardware costs of people who don't like and don't take care of their company-issued devices. Giving them the ability to use what they want both makes them more productive and reduces the corporate IT support-case.
If the iPhone isn't a harbinger of that day, I don't know what is.