Balancing Consumer and Corporate Needs

The primary running tenet of Steve Ballmer's keynote at CTIA was one of convergence, in this case between the commercial and consumer-oriented demands placed on today's smart phone. Ballmer's basic point was that it is crazy to have two devices (one personal, one corporate), and that users need to have

The primary running tenet of Steve Ballmer's keynote at CTIA was one of convergence, in this case between the commercial and consumer-oriented demands placed on today's smart phone. Ballmer's basic point was that it is crazy to have two devices (one personal, one corporate), and that users need to have all the functions merged seamlessly into a single device that has the flexibility and the manageability to bridge the divide.

The problem is that, to date, IT has not been interested at all in enabling their users to take advantage of consumer-oriented capabilities and services—either in the name of security or productivity. Shops that have already made strides to lock down mobile devices have likely barred most of the fun stuff that consumers might want (text messaging, IM, camera, games, media, etc). Meanwhile those on the other end of the spectrum probably have limited the access to enterprise resources for the devices (to e-mail, mostly) and turned a willfully blind eye to what else may happen with the device.

Microsoft seems to have taken a stance that corporations can have their cake and eat it too with the new management platform. For users needing access to a lot of critical data, IT can provide a device with permissions and capabilities tailored to the highest security demands. For users who just need basic (or enhanced) communications, the devices are profiled and configured for a few services (presence, corporate IM, e-mail). I surmise that Ballmer was referring to users' personal devices for the latter.

But I really doubt IT will want to have to answer questions about a user's personal device, nor does it seem likely that IT will want to foot the bill for the relevant licenses that will likely be necessary to bring the device into the fold. Perhaps I am wrong here, but it seems like this would mean a major change of position for many organizations.

I have to say I agree with the underlying tenet of convergence from a logical perspective, however. No one should have to (and few would want to) carry around more than one smart device to meet needs of both ends of their life. In my research for a forthcoming piece on unified communications, I have found nearly universal agreement that users need to be trained, involved and comfortable in order to use to take full advantage of new technologies. And, in this case, a user's comfort and acceptance of a mobile work device could be tied to their ability to access the features and services they want to use in their personal life.

But do enterprise's really want to tackle the additional burden of users' personal devices?

There is also the issue of the unknowns that users could introduce to the network with their newly "authorized" personal devices. At a Microsoft luncheon today, someone asked whether Microsoft envisioned a dual-boot operating system on mobile devices—one for work, one for play. Microsoft's folks definitively answered "no" to that query, but it seems that something similar might be the right solution.

One logical alternative would be to keep the enterprise access and functionality in some kind of sandbox or otherwise virtualized environment on the device. Users could operate standard in an everyday mode, with access to voice, media, device add-on features, plus whatever apps and services are on the device. IT could then define a core set of applications for business usage. The user authenticates in some way and the device enters "business mode," only running the specified applications and processes, with access to specified online resources. Everything not expressly permitted is shut off, and only then the VPN connects back home to access the corporate data. Anything work related in kept in an encrypted store locally, including browser cache.

I like that model. Of course, to get here, we're probably going to need another generation of processors and memory on handhelds.

In other news, I found particularly interesting some of the work AT&T has done on the billing side to help bring about Ballmer's vision of converged use. AT&T's Mike Woodard talked of a few different split-payment options the operator has been working on. For instance, Woodard described one payment plan where the business pays for data while the user takes care of the voice payment. Or another where the corporation could set a limit for their responsibility (say, $60) and the user would be automatically billed for additional costs.