Users have made their move – now it’s your turn IT

For users of mobile technology, the decision has been made, and they are happy.  Users are eagerly buying up the gadgets of their choice to use for personal productivity and entertainment.  Now they can keep in contact with their family and friends, manage their personal finances, have a fitness coach in their pocket, etc. at all times and anywhere they go.  There is no need to be chained to a particular device or a particular location ever again.  There is tremendous flexibility, productivity and connectedness available through these ingenious devices.

The choices users make for their own personal lives rarely have anything to do with expectations or abilities in their professional lives.  But 0h, they would certainly like the enormous personal benefits they have found to extend into the work environment.  And why not?  It’s email, and file sharing, and collaboration, and content creation, and data manipulation – all the same stuff that goes on at work.  This is not the first time in history that consumers have found themselves ahead of their employers on the technology curve.  Oh, right – it’s almost always been that way.  But in the past, there were two worlds.  We would leave our personal lives behind when we went into the office.  We would give up all of the technology advantages we had at home to come into an office that was often 5 to 10 years behind.  That’s just the way it was.  But we got our jobs done on the equipment that was provided, and then went home to our families, leaving that world behind.

The difference this time around is that the two worlds are colliding. Almost as soon as we got these smartphones and tablets, we started also using them for work, connecting to office networks, collecting and sending work emails, and sharing our work with colleagues in the cloud.  And we don’t even have to go into the office to get things done.  Productivity is soaring.  Life just couldn’t get any better than this.

Users have made their move – now it’s your turn IT.

The first action that many IT organizations took was to attempt to lock out these menacing and dangerous rogue devices, as best they could.  After all, they have a duty to provide for the security of their business data and networks.  These methods didn’t always work that well because, after all, these are new devices and the tools and methods to deal with unmanaged mobile devices still haven’t evolved very far.  In fact, many businesses have found that attempting to block users from their new-found productivity ends up backfiring.  Remember this, IT:  if you interfere with the user experience, they will go around you.  This often results in even more risky behavior, as users have to go farther around IT to get their jobs done.  This includes using consumer apps and consumer-oriented cloud services that were never intended to have enterprise-level access controls and protections.  Keep in mind that the users are not the enemy – they are just trying to get their jobs done.

Happily there is progress.  There is a growing acknowledgement in the IT community that their role in this new world is different that in the old.  IT must be ENABLERS of productivity in addition to their traditional role as protectors of intellectual property.  Moreover, IT doesn’t get to make all of the decisions any longer.  The users have chosen, and they aren’t going to go back.

So what is IT to do?  There are regulations to comply with; there are existing policies and procedures that must be adapted; there are CEOs with iPads that must be dealt with.  Fortunately, most in IT want to do the right thing – to be enablers.  But they are challenged with immature technologies for mobile management and security, and no clear mandate on mobile strategies.  The progression of mobile technology has been fast in a historical context, but feels like molasses relative to the insane rate of mobile adoption.  MDM was initially exciting, until we discovered that it didn’t actually do much to protect company data, and tended to upset the users when any policies were applied.  MAM (including app wrapping and API methods) definitely does more to address the data leakage issues on mobile devices, without upsetting users, but the technologies are still fairly immature and most of the third party apps we rely on are not available in this form yet.  MCM (content) has promise too, but we’re even less sure of what that may look like, as each vendor has completely different ideas of what this even means.  Ultimately, IT really just wants to be able to protect their data and not worry about devices and apps and such.  Strong authentication access control to data, plus encryption when stored or transmitted, independent of device, app or location is really all we need.  But nobody can offer that today.

So I believe that many in the IT community now want to be enablers and know what they want their next move to be around mobility.  But their options are limited and the vendors offer few options today.  Some are just waiting.  But doing something may be far better than doing nothing, even if it is not ideal.  Giving users an approved path to use their mobile devices is a good first step to avoid anarchy, which is far more dangerous.  Also, multiple surveys show that businesses that have adopted mobility are seeing greater productivity, competitiveness, and even profit compared to those that do not.  So time is of the essence.  Taking a pass right now is not a good strategy.  So do something, even if it doesn’t address all concerns.

The users have made their move – now it’s your turn IT.

About Brian Duckering

Technology evangelist, mobility strategist, backpacker, father, husband.
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