Thornton May: Caught between mobility's rock and hard place

A high-potential millennial told the CIO at a big-name pharmaceutical company during her exit interview that she found the work environment toxic. Her main complaint was that the enterprise did not allow use of the modern consumer technologies and applications that she perceives as comprising her personal and professional identity. This is mobility's rock: People want the interface, the ease of use, the "cool" factor, the freedom and the functionality of consumer technology in the workplace.

Recently, about 100 CIOs sat mesmerized as two clean-cut, well-groomed and impressively articulate young men demonstrated an exploit that breached two smartphones (iOS and Android). This is mobility's hard place: Smartphones don't meet enterprise security requirements.

All CIOs today find themselves caught between the two.

I have long contended that the best cyberdefense begins and ends with an educated user, accelerated deployment and empathetic IT action. While infosec can't fix stupid, it can play a major role in eradicating ignorance. At a recent CISO Summit, I bumped into Wombat Security Technologies, a company founded by computer science faculty members at my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University. Wombat offers an innovative approach to getting time-obsessed executives to better appreciate the implications of bad security behavior.

But what enterprises really need is to turn mobility's rock and hard place into a value quarry. To do that, IT and the business together must create high-value mobile capabilities at the pace of business opportunity. This is not as impossible as it seems, though it does require ending the occupational apartheid that characterizes most large enterprises today. Professionals who know everything there is to know about security, technology deployment, mobile app development and the future needs of future customers must join together in creativity-enhancing ready rooms. There they must conceptualize, design and prototype capabilities designed to delight employees and/or customers.

A must-read for those who seek to understand and benefit from the mobile phenomenon is Adam Greenfield's 2006 book, Everyware, which challenged the historical limits of IT's purview -- locations inside the enterprise. Greenfield, who went on to be Nokia's head of design direction for user interface and services, said that in the future, information will be delivered in a manner appropriate to our location and context. Every enterprise is a technology company, and every location a potential informated work, play or learning space. (Informating, a term coined in 1988 by Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff, is the process that translates descriptions and measurements of activities, events and objects into information.) The technologies, techniques and applications that make this possible are everyware. But everyware is not just a geographical concept. It has a temporal dimension -- everywhen -- as well.

In Greenfield's future, we will no longer append automated out-of-office tags to email responses. We will no longer hide bad thinking and spelling behind "Sent from my mobile phone" messages. If you are still breathing, you will be expected to conform to the digital mores of the age. The 7/24, always-on economy means we are always at work, always productive and secure. And out from between a rock and a hard place.

Thornton A. May is author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College in Jacksonville. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter (@deanitla).

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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