The days of employees carrying a business and a personal phone to work could well be numbered.
People are increasingly using their smartphones in the workplace and vice versa.
Although it can give rise to security and personal privacy issues, if it is properly harnessed the mobile internet can potentially add immense value to enterprises, according to RIM director of solutions and alliances Rory O’Neill.
And the rising trend in consumerisation – the convergence of the work and personal phone onto a single device – has hardly gone unnoticed by RIM, long the king of the mobile phone enterprise space. O’Neill believes this trend is beneficial for both employers and employees, but he admits there are challenges to overcome on both sides.
Enterprises are clearly nervous about staff running around with a ‘personal’ phone full of sensitive business information on it. Employees, on the other hand, are unhappy about their employers having access to personal information on their ‘work’ phone.
There are solutions out there, according to O’Neill, but what’s interesting to note, he says, is that it is the consumer that is accelerating the use of the mobile internet.
‘Usually technological adoption is driven by the employer, which dictates what technology we use at work and home in terms of PCs, browsers, laptops and often phones,’ he points out.
‘But now people are using tablets, they are using Skype on their smartphones, they might be using Firefox as their browser at home more than Internet Explorer and they are bringing that into work environment. Arguably the consumer is at a higher level of technical usage than the enterprise is able or willing to support,’ says O’Neill.
Generally speaking, user adoption of any product or service was the key for enterprises; how much value a product or service has is directly linked to how many people use it. But if consumers are ahead of businesses in driving the adoption of new technology off their own bat, then enterprises need to wake up and take advantage of the trend, argues O’Neill.
The question for businesses is: how do they leverage the power of the mobile internet through their staff and how do they do it in a way that maximises the company value, while keeping the management of it in line with their security systems and company policies?
O’Neill says there are five key areas businesses are grappling with as they try and capitalise on the consumerisation trend.
‘Firstly, businesses need certain management tools,’ explains O’Neill. ‘Every company has a specific culture, so before they roll out some new technology they need to understand the culture. What does the company need to achieve and what are the employees willing to tolerate?’
Each company will have to implement its own policies in terms of how much access to the mobile internet it will allow staff. For example, one Spanish bank turns off the browser on staff mobile phones during the Spanish working day. Some companies might allow staff to use Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn and so on.
What is important here, says O’Neill, is that the mobile solution does not dictate what a company can or cannot do with the technology it decides to invest in. The technology needs to be flexible enough to reflect any culture that adopts it.
Business leaders are there to drive value for shareholders, customers and employees, he adds.
He cites the example of UK police forces that have issued officers with BlackBerrys. They have an app that provides officers with access to the Police National Database computer while on the beat. That mobile access has delivered savings of £112m over the last few months.
‘The police don’t care how many apps there are on that particular ecosystem. What they want are the few apps that help them be more productive. The point is that enterprises are not there to respond to the latest fashions, but to drive value,’ he says.
The third aspect that companies need to be look at when considering consumerisation of mobile devices is choice. The reality is mobile phones are very personal devices and users want to customise them to their own taste.
O’Neill says: ‘People want their music, data, games, photos, contents and contacts on their phones. But if the phone is supplied by work it is going to have a very individual persona on it, but also some very specific content from the enterprise on it too – and that can be a problem.’
To meet this challenge, RIM has developed something called BB Balance, which enables an IT team to keep a work profile distinct from a consumer profile on the same device. For example, a user cannot cut and paste from a work document into a consumer document.
‘So, there is a way for consumer and employee usage to co-exist on the same device,’ says O’Neill.
The fourth aspect that enterprises need to look at is the company security versus personal privacy angle. If enterprises open up data that runs their business to more and more devices then they’ve got to look at the security issues that creates. Locking down aspects of the phone, or being able to read an employee’s personal emails may be considered a potential invasion of the user’s privacy.
The fifth and final consideration employers need to focus on is using management tools that drive value. ‘If they are going to roll out thousands of devices with different hardware profiles, along with thousands of pieces that comprise the operating system and apps on top, then there is a big cost in implementing a heterogeneous environment,’ says O’Neill.
‘Enterprises need to ensure they provide the right level of support for apps and end users as they adopt and roll out these devices.
‘The huge business and personal productivity that can be potentially gained from issuing staff with tablets could all be negated depending on how an enterprise manages the roll out and control of new mobile devices,’ warns O’Neill.
‘What really excites us with mobile technology is that companies have all spent billions on systems, software and data to make decisions fixed to the work desk,’ says O’Neill. ‘But by providing access to the mobile internet they are now empowering individuals to make those decisions at the point of servicing the customer rather than having to go back to
their desk at the office and then do it.
‘The mobile internet empowers people and that is exciting for business leaders,’ says O’Neill. ‘What you are seeing in the smartphone world is that people want secure internet services, but in a mobile form. We believe we have cracked that at RIM, but the fundamental principles of mobile are different to the desktop environment.’
O’Neill believes that the growth of cloud computing is a key factor aiding the rise of the mobile internet. It provides easy access for businesses to key services – and, equally importantly, it is much cheaper than having to install full desktop services on every PC.
‘Cloud computing is pay-per-use, rather than capex expenditure,’ points out O’Neill. ‘Mobile is arguably pay-per-use traditionally, but the reason we are going for the cloud as our solution is more complex than wireless email; it’s about running your whole business via the cloud. That makes it easier for enterprises to set the policy and culture of