At a seminar last week in San Francisco on the impact of mobility on business, I asked for a show of hands to see how many of the attendees' companies have a policy governing the use of personal devices. Of the roughly 50 people in the audience, four raised their hands.
No one in the room, including me, was surprised. The lack of such policies in companies is well documented.
One CIO talked about how he's annoyned that vendors haven't done a better job of standardizing mobile phone and handheld wares; another wondered how to devise a sustainable support model. And then there's the issue they're all fretting over, probably more than any other: security. Between lost data and the proliferation of spam and viruses targeting these devices, the threat seems to be overwhelming.
The hand-wringing over security is only going to get worse, because personal devices are only going to get more ubiquitous. And as if mobile phones and handhelds weren't enough to contend with, MP3 players are quickly being added to the cache of productivity arms in your users' arsenals.
That disquieting fact was underscored last week when Apple Computer's Steve Jobs said his company will support and organize podcasts -- downloadable audio files, typically of voice programming -- in the next versions of its iTunes and iPod software. The announcement didn't raise too many security alarms, but think about it. Podcasting is a convenient, inexpensive, reliable means of disseminating information to a global workforce. It's already gaining popularity as a vehicle for sharing the proceedings of meetings and conferences, and it's easy to imagine how it might be used for corporate training and vertical applications like distributing lecture materials in the education sector.
What that means is that MP3 players will eventually be standard equipment for your users. And when that time comes, the capacity for corporate data loss will be almost incomprehensible. Your networks and devices might be bulletproof, but there will be nothing to mitigate the insider security threat when your organization is inundated with what are essentially portable hard drives with exponentially growing storage capacities.
The good news is that organizations will no longer have to deal with the headache of supporting a PC on every desktop. It could also be the catalyst that finally makes server-based, thin-client computing compelling enough for CIOs to bite the bullet and make the switch.
* Don Tennant is editor in chief of US Computerworld