Mobile Operating System Choice

A. Braunberg
A. Braunberg

Summary Bullets:

  • Nobody ever got fired for buying BlackBerrys. Embrace device diversity but incentivize best practices

Anyone old enough to remember the phrase: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment”? If uttered by an IBM sales person it could be considered classic fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). But it was based on an industry axiom at the time: IBM hardware was the known quantity and the safe purchase. For a long time, nobody got fired for buying BlackBerry either, but the ‘consumerization of IT’ has thrown those old assumptions out the window and organizations are back to really taking a hard look at the features of each mobile OS and trying to keep the FUD at bay. I sat in a panel at Interop last week that basically asked the question: is it safe to hitch your wagon to any one mobile OS, BlackBerry or otherwise?

The panel consensus on that question was no. And while I was there mostly to look at the leading mobile OSs through a security filter, I had to agree. There are clear and compelling security reasons for some users to only use BlackBerries (The President of the U.S. uses a BlackBerry), but most organizations can safely adopt a broader mix of consumer oriented devices. The trick is to limit choice based on individual employee (or group) risk and to develop economic incentives to employees to adopt safer mobile habits. This was teased out nicely in the audience Q&A by Boxtone’s Brian Reed (who happened to be in the audience rather than on the panel). Boxtone is already seeing a fair percentage of its customers (particularly those in health care) use economic incentives to encourage the use of some devices and not others. For example, for employees using a device that IT considers enterprise ready, the company might pay for the device and the service plan, while “unapproved” devices would only be allowed on corporate networks if employees paid for the device and the service plan.

The good news for both employers and employees is that all the major mobile OSs are getting more enterprise-friendly from a manageability and security perspective. There is still a long way to go and some vendors are doing better than others but Apple, Google, and Microsoft are all showing progress with every major new OS release. In the mean time there is a large and growing ecosystem of vendors that are making a living by filling the security and manageability deficiencies in these platforms. This ecosystem makes it easier for IT to embrace consumerization of IT today and will help them manage the growing complexity of mobile application management and mobile information security going forward, in heterogeneous device environments.

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