While it is axiomatic to say that the speed of technological change is breathtaking, the past year in particular has witnessed a spate of announcements in the mobility world that is truly unprecedented. New operating systems, smarter smartphones, and new device types seem to appear on a weekly basis. For the technically inclined, this represents a smorgasbord of delights. What is more important, however, is the impact these advances are having in enhancing the capabilities and productivity of the mobile worker. At the same time, these changes also represent challenges for the enterprise to effectively leverage these new capabilities while also protecting the information they store, process and transmit.
This article takes a look at some of the most prominent mobility trends, how they are impacting various workforces, and the manner in which they may be implemented within the departments of Defense (DoD) or Navy (DON) network environments.
Does anybody remember when a mobile phone was just a phone? As each new product release tries to outdo the previous ones, smartphones are literally getting smarter and smarter every day. While the Apple iPhone and Android-based devices have gotten most of the recent attention, BlackBerrys, Palm devices and others have all joined in the race to provide the coolest, most capable devices. These devices sport enhanced multimedia support, document handling capabilities and even video conferencing. In addition to the mind-boggling number of consumer applications available for these devices, and many are free, corporations are also developing their own custom apps to support their mobile workforce. With the promised roll out of dual-core processors for smartphones similar to PC processors, mobile devices will be even more capable of handling multimedia, and interactive and processing-intensive applications. With the exception of screen and keyboard size, the distinction between a smartphone and a full-size computer will soon be irrelevant from a technical standpoint.
While tablet PCs have been around for a while, they have typically been designed around a laptop platform with a pen or touch-based interface added on. They tended to be heavy and difficult to use, and as a result, have not been very popular. The newly released iPad, or rumored to be soon released tablets (Research in Motion or RIM and Hewlett-Packard) represent devices designed from the ground up to be sleek, easy to use and capable. With larger screens and keyboards than smartphones, tablets are seen to be much more user-friendly for a number of uses including: document creation and editing; accessing and manipulating back-office corporate applications and data; graphics-intensive work; and multimedia applications. Using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), tablets could also support voice communications, although that has not been a primary application offered to date.
The numerous device and service options available today are obviously difficult to manage from an enterprise standpoint — so some corporations have decided not to even try. A growing trend is: bring your own mobility (BYOM), where employees can buy whatever personal device they like and are allowed to attach it to the corporate network, under certain conditions. Mr. Robert Carey, the former DON Chief Information Officer, spoke of this trend in an April 2010 interview with CIO Talk Radio, an Internet-based talk radio show aired globally through VoiceAmerica Business Radio. Most organizations realize that their employees often conduct business on their personal devices anyway, so BYOM is a formal acknowledgement of that and allows corporations to better manage that activity.
BYOM has some significant advantages. Employees will be happier using the device of their choice, and those who carry a business and a personal device can just carry one, making life a little easier. For the enterprise, the prospect of happier employees has obvious value, but the money saved by not buying devices has a monetary value more easily calculated.
Third Party Management Platforms
The majority of the new mobile devices were initially, and sometimes exclusively, designed for the consumer marketplace. This makes integrating them into an enterprise network problematic because the necessary control and management of the device required to enforce corporate policy and protect sensitive information are lacking. However, a number of software providers, independent from the device manufacturer or service provider, have developed management platforms that provide the necessary management controls that enterprises rely on to protect their information, such as password enforcement, remotely wiping data from a lost or stolen device, and encrypting data. Some applications also permit devices to have two distinct profiles, so that corporate and personal data are never intermingled.
No matter how fast your sports car may be, it won’t take you anywhere quickly if the roads you are driving on can’t handle the speed. The same is true with your mobile device. Services, such as on-demand multimedia, video conferencing, wireless VoIP and real-time navigation, require a high degree of bandwidth availability, as well as low latency, in the round trip between end points. To support these devices and apps, all the major commercial cellular providers have established schedules for the roll out of their fourth-generation mobile or 4G services. In some areas, 4G service is available today. Whether based on the WiMax or Long Term Evolution (LTE) standards, these networks will provide throughput capabilities for smartphones of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps), dramatically faster than the 3 Mbps speed of a 3G connection.
Enhanced Voice Encryption
Because smartphones are used to conduct an increasing amount of business by the mobile workforce, concern over securing voice conversations has risen. This concern has recently been highlighted by the breaking, and public posting of the encryption algorithm utilized by many providers that use the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), which is the most popular mobile telephony standard used by carriers in more than 200 countries, including the United States.
A number of solutions are currently on the marketplace to provide enhanced encryption for voice calls between similarly configured devices. Unfortunately, at this time, none of these solutions are interoperable with each other. A standards-based, interoperable solution, however, could be available in the future.
One Person, One Phone
Many consumers today eschew having a traditional, copper phone line installed at their residence and instead use their mobile phone for all voice needs regardless of their location. Due to advances in integrating cellular networks with traditional phone systems, such as Private Branch Exchanges (PBX) popular in the corporate setting, this trend is also now beginning to make advances with larger enterprises as well.
With only one voice mail application to tend to, using a mobile phone as your primary, or only, phone cuts down on phone tag and multiple, redundant messages. The enterprise can also save by not paying for redundant voice services and equipment.
Mike Hernon is the former chief information officer for the city of Boston. He currently supports the DON CIO in telecommunications and wireless strategy and policy.
Taking advantage of these advances can empower the mobile workforce to a degree that was considered visionary only a year or two ago. Today, unfortunately, the stringent information assurance requirements of the DoD prevent their full adoption on military networks. However, as the corporate world focuses more on the security of mobile platforms, many of the concerns of those of us in the DoD environment are also being addressed by commercial providers. While some DoD requirements, such as Common Access Card support, may continue to call for unique, custom solutions, in general, the DON will increasingly be able to take advantage of these advancements. This will empower our Sailors, Marines, and those who support them, to better accomplish their missions.