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Process & Strategy: When Worlds Collide
By Craig Settles
In the latest installment of our ongoing Process & Strategy series, industry analyst Craig Settles addresses the blurring lines between business and consumer devices. He gets advice from executives from government, professional services firms, and educational institutions about coping in the converging mobile workplace.

Check out other installments in this series
Taking The Pain Out Of Telecom Expense Management
Walking The Mobility Tightrope
What's The Plan
Playing Politics
Effective Needs Analysis
Mobile Device Management

When Worlds Collide

One particular "separation of church and state" discussion that makes the rounds in enterprise circles regards the convergence of business and consumer mobile devices. We've reached a point where one mobile device can effectively manage an employee's work life and personal life. Device convergence -- along with the simultaneous rise of social networking -- has all but obliterated that sacred curtain between the two worlds. 

Some of you probably long for the good old days, when computing resources were strictly company property, and there was little worry about workers using them for personal tasks. However, there's a new world order now, and executives, managers and IT staffs must be responsible for how an organization chooses to respond to the challenges convergence brings. Not all of these responses are based on technology; in fact, much of it hinges on setting and enforcing sound and effective corporate policies.

Smartphones At The Gates

Smartphones are coming to market with features that were previously considered the domain of "consumer" devices, such as texting and mobile multimedia support. Consumer mobile phones, conversely, are rolling out with increasingly sophisticated Email, Web surfing and other features that were traditionally favored for a business environment.

The Nielsen Company reported in March 2009 that nearly 60% of the 200 million current users of advanced mobile data services in the U.S. and Europe intend to use more services in the next 24 months than they had previously used. Of the non-users, more than 25% intend to adopt mobile data services in the same period.

What's driving the increase? In the U.S., 57% of those surveyed by Nielsen cited Email, while 45% want to access and run software applications.

How do you keep your company's network data and devices secure when the feature sets encourage device use in situations not ideal for business security? At the same time, the demand for performing more business tasks on smartphones is increasing. Security management software, of course, is the first thing that comes to mind for many.

"We have 220 devices, including a lot of BlackBerrys, on a 4.9 GHz citywide wireless network downloading video and leveraging applications from City Hall," says Steve Reneker, CIO of the city of Riverside, CA. "To manage costs, we have a pooled plan that gives us unlimited data and voice for a set rate. This removes the need for [employees] to have personal devices, since they can use the City's. We have security based on our BES [BlackBerry Enterprise Server] that restricts access to the City's network to a specific browser."

Only one browser allows access to the city's Intranet, while specific IT policies enforced through BES limits unauthorized entry. But, many devices can surf the Internet via Web browsers, so there's always the danger of these being used for inappropriate activities or being vulnerable to phishing expeditions by fraudulent Web sites. Business-use guidelines can counter this threat.

The Guiding Lights

601 Information Systems LLC, a division of CPA firm Bowman & Company, has 115 mobile professionals using laptops and smartphones to access Microsoft Exchange Email, voice mail, faxing and other company software. Executive Director Jim Hart reveals that the company relies heavily on enforcing its guidelines.  

"People using these devices for personal business haven't impacted our network. We developed a corporate policy that all devices are personal property, and business software belongs to the company. We also state that they can't discuss client issues and sensitive information online using services such as Facebook, [they] can't Email members of the press before clearing it with a senior partner, and so on. Mainly, these are logical policies with a dose of common sense. So far, no one has done anything inappropriate."

Colleges and universities probably are the ultimate challenge for mobile device and data management. While university employees are generally managed like those of other organizations, university students straddle the "business" world of schoolwork and the life of social animals. In addition, anyone can come onto a campus looking for a free wireless fix.     

Bryant University, in Smithfield, RI, has processes and policy procedures for its staff that protect university data. Rich Siedzik, Director of Computer & Telecommunications Services, says, "We educate the managers about these, and have them educate staff who use the devices. It's taken for granted [that] there's going to be things on devices that are not supported by the university. But the IT staff removes software only if it conflicts with what's supported."

For students, mobile devices are becoming the preferred hardware for network access, and WiFi is their preferred method of access. Siedzek adds, "We see this trend continuing. We'll spend more money on wireless than wired infrastructure as we go along here. IT has already made our WiFi network more robust and more secure [than it previously had been]. This is a buildout issue rather than device management."

The goal? Focus heavily on fortifying network resources against outside intrusion, and worry less about controlling devices. 

All The World's a-Twitter

Social networking, particularly through Twitter and Facebook, is pushing the envelope of converged-lifestyle device use. With Oprah and President Barack Obama each drawing massive crowds to their presence on these networks, and the leading networks facilitating mobile device access, expect every corporate device to do double time as a personal communicator.

The big threat is not so much from an increase in data files entering or leaving the organization, but rather from employees making inappropriate comments or releasing sensitive material through Facebook posts or Twitter tweets. By increasing collaboration with mobile device users, social networking increases information flow through incredibly public media. You never know who's looking over a user's shoulder, either online or on in person.

"You can't get away from these social networks because everyone's using them, and they can do the company a lot of good," says Hart. "We recently set up our social networking policy. Because we're able to wipe the data on a device if it's lost, we're not worried about anyone getting access to people's social network accounts. But you can't discuss everything here."  

Reneker, of the City of Riverside,  concurs. "Every employee reads and signs our TRUMP [Technology Resource and Use Monitoring Policy] document, which basically states they understand what's appropriate communication during and after working hours. Even "off the clock" they still represent the City. Through our BlackBerry browser for City applications, we restrict access to social networks, and managers must authorize their staff to get to these using regular browsers."

As with the intrepid crew of the Starship Enterprise, almost everyone is walking around with a personal communicator that is universal in its use. This trend can be the gateway to great future benefits for the organization, or it can be an Achilles heel -- and sometimes both at the same time. Effective planning and common sense policies ensure the former.

Beam  us up, Scotty.

Tips for managing the melding of work & personal devices
  • Have strong business-use policies in place
  • Make sure use guidelines are enforced
  • Fortify your network resources against outside intrusion
  • Be flexible, control only the devices you really need to control
  • Remove software only when it conflicts with that which your IT department supports
  • Reserve the ability to wipe any device used for corporate data

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