If smart phones are a small-business boon, they're also a potential liability.
Not only do businesses who offer them to employees have to keep track of who is using what device, they're also loaded with information you don't want "just anyone" to have access to. (If you've ever had to replace a lost or stolen company smart phone, you know what a hassle it can be.)
Research In Motion Ltd. recently debuted its new BlackBerry Management Center – basically a do-it-yourself tool for managing three to 100 BlackBerry devices. It's free, which makes it an appealing choice for companies that can't afford expensive IT services to handle their growing arsenal of smart phones.
It's also one more reason RIM hopes businesses will continue to use its products. Google's recent blockbuster buyout of Motorola Mobility means these business oriented technologies are more important to the struggling smart phone maker than ever before.
Here's a first look:
What it is: BlackBerry Management Center lets you manage your business's BlackBerry devices from anywhere using an online Web application. You can manage a number of things through the service such as setting up e-mail, contacts and calendars for each of your company phones. If a phone gets lost, you can lock it and display a message telling whoever finds the phone how it can be returned. Worst case scenario: you can use BlackBerry Management Center to wipe the data from a lost or stolen phone, including its microSD card. You can also restore the settings and content from a lost or broken phone onto a new phone.
What you might like: Managing user phones from the Web application is as easy as promised, although you're going to have to do some legwork to sync company devices with your BlackBerry Management Center account. The hard part mostly boils down to retrieving several ID numbers attached to your various BlackBerry devices as well as making sure apps such as BlackBerry Protect and e-mail are properly configured on each device. Once that's done, using the service is pretty much a matter of navigating a few simple menus that display your options for each smart phone.
Another useful feature: Employees who use their personal Blackberry devices in your business can add them to the service. In that case, users can determine how much control BlackBerry Management Center has over their device.
What you might not like: The mobile work crowd is diverse. And if they're not all using BlackBerrys, they're not all controlled by this product. Which absolutely limits how much order the Management Center will bring to the mobile chaos in your shop.
What to do: If your shop has a bring-your-own-gadget-to-work culture, Management Center is not for you. It simply does not support a broad enough array of devices to make it worth the hassle. But if your business has even a couple of BlackBerry devices in the mix, this service could provide some peace of mind.
Jonathan Blum is a freelance writer and the principal of Blumsday LLC, a Web-based content company specializing in technology news.
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