Practical Analysis: The Increasingly Real Consumer Effect - InformationWeek

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Mobile // Mobile Devices
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4/23/2009
03:00 PM
Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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Practical Analysis: The Increasingly Real Consumer Effect

Even if you don't (yet) let employees pick their own computing devices, securing data on mobile devices while accommodating savvy users should be a priority.

Look in the briefcase of most business professionals, and you'll typically find a laptop, a personal cell phone, a company cell phone, and some iPod-like device. It's not so bad when all that stuff is in the briefcase or desk, but if you want it more immediately accessible, pocket space is a scarce commodity. For myself, it's one device in my pocket--period. As a result, my iPod usually only gets used at the gym, and my friends and family have to know my business cell phone number or they won't reach me most of the time. I'm pretty sure I'm not unique.

More generally, this competition for pocket space shows how the so-called consumer effect is an increasing IT stress point. It's perfectly reasonable that business pros will have a better personal cell phone or laptop than the company provides, whatever "better" might mean to them. In some cases, a person may want the most powerful laptop beast out there, or, if size is the issue, a netbook may fit the bill. Chances are you've had senior management asking for IT support of their iPhones, and in rarer cases, you've had users wanting to use their personal laptops for company purposes--often those Mac aficionados chafing in a Windows world.

Three years ago, I wrote about the consumer effect, and the day when IT would no longer specify an end user's equipment. Measured by the E-mail response then, the idea was a good bit ahead of its time. The suggestion that end users get this kind of freedom had one skeptical reader asking if I'd been dropped on my head as a child. Clearly we're closer to this now, and some organizations give users this freedom. Whether or not yours does, it's time to start planning for it.

Single-device nirvana doesn't exist yet. What I think I want is better integration between a laptop-sized thing and a phone. Netbooks are getting very interesting, thanks to the trend toward 3G capabilities built in. A netbook with a swivel touch screen could be incredibly useful for salespeople and such, and the price is right for mass deployment-- think of a larger version of something like the LG Voyager and its ilk.

Yet for personal use as a phone, netbooks are too big--though I'm sure I'll see fans at a Giants game Twittering away on their 3G-connected netbook while talking into their Bluetooth headpiece, probably about something unrelated to the game. For me, netbooks also seem too small for business uses; I want a closely paired phone and laptop, so they synchronize more than just E-mail and calendar.

However personal electronics evolve, there will be pressure to combine business and personal functions in one device. Let's face it, the line between our business and personal lives is already all but gone. Security concerns will continue to be the hardest obstacle to overcome. Certainly virtualization and technologies such as data loss prevention will play a big part as we figure out the right combination for personal and business productivity.

Our most recently released report looks specifically at the challenge of protecting data on end-user devices. Get ready for terms like "thumbsucking" and "podslurping," because it's a brave new world.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics. Write to him at [email protected].

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

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