The rise of mobile devices in the workplace hasn't just changed the way work is done — it has also transformed the requirements of those charged with supporting them.
The current workplace mobile revolution has led to the creation of what many are calling mobile IT teams – specialists charged with securing the numerous devices and ensuring they provide enough functionality to make them worthwhile.
"There has been quite a profound shift (in the way IT department operates) out there, and mobile has been the catalyst of it," Ojas Rege, vice president of products for MobileIron, told BusinessNewsDaily. "In essence, this is a new profession that requires a lot of new skills that traditional IT teams didn't have before."
The mobile space,once dominated by BlackBerry, became much more of a priority for IT professionals following the introduction of an Apple's encrypted iPhone in 2009, Rege said.
"It was the first time IT (departments) said, 'Maybe we can use these,'" Rege said.
The need for mobile IT teams is being driven by several factors, most notably the development of powerful and secure smartphones and tablets that allow employees to productively work outside the office, according to Seth Robinson, director of technology analysis for CompTIA.
"They have improved to a point where that is a viable option now," Robinson said.
Research from CompTIA, a nonprofit association for the IT industry, found that 81 percent of businesses are making smartphones available to at least some employees, with nearly 40 percent providing tablets to their staff.
The vast number of employees with mobile device access (estimated to reach 1.3 billion by 2015) has changed the way many businesses are operating, which Dan Croft, CEO of Mission Critical Wireless, believes is helping push the need for mobile IT teams.
"We are seeing this complete blurring in how I am allocating my time between business and personal," Croft said.
With so many businesses now giving employees the freedom to work outside the office, Croft said IT departments' mobile responsibilities have grown at a rapid pace.
"This has led to having to come up with a new paradigm and having to define a whole new relationship," Croft said.
Experts agree the most important responsibility for mobile IT teams is determining how to verify the devices are secure enough to be used for sensitive work information.
"You need to establish minimum security guidelines and how you handle it when users fall outside those guidelines," Croft said.
The CompTIA study found that some areas of most concern are the download of unauthorized apps, device theft, mobile-specific viruses and the use of social media on the devices.
While security is critical, Robinson said the IT teams must also balance it against the needs of the employees. Too much security undermines the device's functionality, and makes employees less likely to want to use it.
"It is very important for the IT team to be mindful of the end user," Robinson said. "If it detracts from the experience of using the device, then they are just going to shut it off."
Mobile IT teams also are charged with developing, securing and maintaining new mobile apps that help employees become more productive and efficient. Croft believes that will be the most notable challenge facing mobile IT teams in the years to come.
"It is a big task once you scratch below the surface," Croft said. "This may be one of the biggest things to hit IT in many years."
With mobile taking on a more prominent role in the workplace, it is also crucial for mobile IT teams to align their goals with businesses' needs and wants.
"This is really a business objective, and they need to get in sync with that," Robinson said.
Rege believes the ways in which businesses are incorporating mobile options suggests IT specialists with specific mobile expertise will benefit most down the road.
"It is helping drive the best and the brightest to mobile teams," he said. "It is a career-builder."
Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years working as a newspaper reporter and now works as a freelance business and technology reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.