How to turn an iPhone into a BlackBerry

New software could give the IT police a way to reverse the mobile-led 'IT spring' consumerization revolution

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My larger concern is not Doc@Works, per se -- the people at MobileIron are both very smart and creative, and I'm sure they'll evolve Docs@Work nicely. My concern is that such a company -- responding to the demands of a couple thousand customers seeking more control over users -- took the route of protecting just the mobile tunnel, no doubt because its customers inappropriately segregate mobile security from other security, and do so ham-handedly.

They're not alone. For example, I know users of Good's tools that are similarly straitjacketed, to the point where the iOS device they're allowed to use on the corporate network ends up being unworkable in practice, leaving them no better than the BlackBerry in what was clearly IT's goal to dissuade real mobile usage.

At the end of the day, these straitjacketing tools steer users away from accessing mobile devices as they should be utilized in the name of safeguarding the data that (in most organizations) they can easily -- and insecurely -- access from traditional computers. Doesn't that sound just like how you would wield a BlackBerry -- and why workers quickly dropped that straitjacketed device? And they do nothing to protect the same information on much riskier devices -- that is, PCs. Seeing this happen yet again is the straw that broke this camel's back.

A better approach would manage the content permissions regardless of device used to access it and trust the recipient with the ability to edit the files -- or at least provide editing as a permissions option, based on policies. For example, the use of the S/MIME secured email protocol would better let IT protect mail content across traditional computers and mobile devices (such as iOS). S/MIME can be complicted to manage, so a product like Voltage's SecureMail might better fit the bill, except it currently works only with Windows and BlackBerry, not iOS, Android, or OS X.

Abuse of control won't go where IT likes
The truth is that for information security and management to be effective, it has to be done at the core and apply to all endpoints and venues based on meaningful risk/reward analyses. Otherwise, it's either naïve or, worse, control for its own sake.

Then there's the elephant in the room that providing read-only access to corporate information reveals: Many companies don't trust their employees. Even though they give them access to corporate information, they add a Kafkaeque technology maze meant to cripple those employees' use of that data rather than actually manage the initial information access and manage the people as such. It's simply insane.

But this is where I have hope. Such products -- when used for the wrong reasons and heavyhandedly -- make mobile technology less valuable. Such deployments may get workers to stop using mobile devices for business due to the burdens these straitjackets impose. After spending all that money securing the mobile device, IT may find it built the most secure environment possible: one where no one goes. The business managers who supported this police mentality wonder why their users are no longer working from the airport, train, or couch on their mobile devices (whether personal or corporate). 

At the same time, as the IT police scheme on ways to tie down mobile users, some companies are trying to get people to put in more free overtime by making it easy to work remotely through mobile and other personal devices. That motivation, especially in an era where average employees' wages have been flat for decades but executive wages have skyrocketed, is very troubling. It's even more troubling when you hear (as I do) some execs gleefully planning to stop paying for work PCs because employees' purchase of their own mobile devices suggests they'll buy their own PCs and Macs, too, in the name of employee "freedom."

At some point, the "freedom" becomes gross exploitation. Couple that with the IT prison-guard control mentality simultaneously imposed on those user technologies, and you have a recipe for a major reappraisal among knowledge workers on the deal they've made with their corporate masters -- and perhaps an IT summer, to boot. 

I certainly hope the police-state IT mentality joins the BlackBerry's journey to oblivion.

This article, "How to turn an iPhone into a BlackBerry," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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