When personal digital assistants like the original Palm Pilot hit the scene in the mid-1990s it was aimed at the corporate executive or mobile employee. Corporations weren't exactly falling over themselves to provide PDAs to employees, yet there were few major companies that didn't have a PDA synchronization tool installed, surreptitiously or not, somewhere on their network that let an employee have a portable copy of their contacts, appointments, tasks, emails and even office documents.
Those were truly the days of the wild west for mobile devices. Devices then didn't know what a policy was so there was no way to control what happened. Today though, things are a bit different. Employees still bring in devices and try to plug them in, but today's devices are more IT friendly. With the exception of RIM's Blackberry, all of the major smartphone players have Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync client built in. With that, IT managers are at least able to push down policies that require the device to lock with a security code and ensure that it can be wiped clean in the event the device is reported lost or stolen.
Blackberry devices, of course, are the veritable Swiss army knife when it comes to policies IT can enforce when paired with the Blackberry Enterprise Server. The problem is fewer and fewer employees are bringing in a Blackberry to hook up. As I wrote yesterday, the real battle in this area is between Apple's iOS and Google's Android.
Regardless of the device though, some sticky questions remain. How much control can a company exercise over a device it doesn't own? What happens when the employee leaves? The Wall Street Journal tries to answer these and other questions in a recent story.
When evaluating these issues, it is important to remember that an employee that wants to do this is trying to be more productive. They don't mind when work encroaches a bit on personal time, so the IT department that comes down hard with draconian measures to prevent this will foster resentment and cut overall productivity.
The key is to find a balance between adequate security to protect company information and enough flexibility to benefit users and their departments. How device friendly is your company?