Recently we sat down with visionary security evangelist John Britton to ask him all about enterprise mobility and the use of mobile apps to enhance business. Here’s what he had to say.

Enterprises building their own apps – are they doing a good job?

Enterprises still need to build their own mobile applications today because the industry hasn’t settled on a particular vendor or suite of products like we have for laptops and desktops. Microsoft is getting closer to really capitalizing and owning the entire Office Suite on mobile devices, but I don’t think it’s there yet.
Many enterprises think if they don’t build their own apps, and instead go to some third party vendor, they won’t be able to take advantage of their own inherent intellectual property or competitive gains.
A reason why custom-built apps are failing is because the business model has changed and IT is starting to recognize that the applications being built may not be particularly secure or manageable or even controllable.
Employees have the choice to use the applications that they want. That’s more to do with the architecture and the operating systems of the devices they use and how much control the enterprise allows the end user to have. But I think it’s a little bit dangerous to allow them this freedom.

Are custom apps being built securely?

Most organizations will have some sharp folks thinking about security in the app building process but then they realize, or they don’t realize, that maybe TLS data was broken, or SSL data is not good, but at the time they wrote the application internally within the enterprise they go build it with this technology that’s now somewhat less secure than originally thought.
When IT doesn’t understand all the different nuances within the product and maybe that internal developer has left the company, you’re left with products that are unsupportable and probably don’t meet your security needs.
If you’re building an application that talks to an SAP or Oracle application for example, and IT doesn’t know, it’s not only a security issue but it might break some licensing issues too. So there are plenty of different reasons why the enterprise needs to recognize that there are some pitfalls.

Should we be cautious when downloading free apps vs paid?

One of the apps I’m staring at right now has my Twitter feed on it. I tried three or four different Twitter versions, starting with the cheapest one first. When I realised I liked that one, I stuck with it.
But if the application is free, the user becomes the product. Because as users, we are giving all our personal information to that company and they’re probably going to make money by selling insight into our online behavior (i.e. what tweets we’re looking at) to try to build a social profile in order to advertise to us in a specific way.
So those free applications may actually be taking more information than you would think, putting it in their cloud server and then reselling it. The server might even get hacked and then your personal information is out there in an even looser fashion than anybody would like.
Ultimately, as a consumer I’m perfectly fine with trying free apps for a while until they bore me, and then I’ll go to the $0.99 app and then, if all else fails, I’ll finally spend real money on an application and probably that real application is where my enterprise wanted me to start with all along.

Are we truly mobilizing the organization or just giving employees smartphones?

There are some enterprises that really have a handle on mobility and really understand how their employees use their devices.
Then there are some enterprises that don’t have a clue. So there’s a lot of tension and friction between what’s being rolled out and what the employee community really wants.
Then there’s the third group of enterprises that don’t know and don’t want to know how their employees are using devices. They’ll turn a blind eye.
The enterprises that I put in the category of doing it well are the ones that are truly ‘mobilized’. They’re making recommendations on the best types of applications to use. They’re enabling the sales force and embracing mobile as a culture, as opposed to just allowing it to happen.
Truly mobilized enterprises are thinking beyond just, ‘How do I get Salesforce in somebody’s hand that’s out on the street and not tied to a desk?’ They’re thinking about, ‘How do I ensure that employee is connected to a secure environment and that they’re getting the right information and feeds to ensure that they’re connecting in a safe, secure manner?’

Do you think tablets and smartphones are replacing desktop and laptop?

I’ve got a daughter who’s about go off to university and a couple of years ago I remember the story very clearly. She came to me at nine o’clock at night saying, ‘I’ve got this PowerPoint presentation that’s due tomorrow.’
So I had a parental conversation asking, ‘well when did you learn about this?’ And none of her answers really made me feel really happy that she’d planned out how to do her homework on time.
So instead of handing her a laptop, I handed her an iPad with PowerPoint on it, which I knew wasn’t being super helpful. But she came back in an hour and I looked at this presentation that she’d built in PowerPoint on the iPad and it was actually pretty decent considering she was a sophomore in high school in tenth grade.
I realized at that point in time that she’s never really built a PowerPoint presentation using a keyboard and a mouse, so she just adapted to what I gave her and it was wildly successful.
I don’t think anybody our age is excited about using Excel on an iPad or a smartphone. They prefer what they are used to which is probably desktop. But if an iPad is all you know and that’s what you grew up with, it will be your preference.
So I don’t know if the laptop will ever completely disappear but I think that there will be a shift where people will adapt to mobile devices that don’t have keyboards. Then as our R&D folks and our engineers and really smart technical people figure things out, they’ll come up with more intuitive ways to bring what we would consider difficult, Excel or PowerPoint creation, onto these devices.

What do you think about OS convergence? Will all devices eventually have the same OS?

Microsoft really did a great job with Windows 10 and they just have a mobile site. I think they’re pretty far behind the smartphone race with Android and Apple. I’d like to see them catch up and really see what they can do with a pure converged environment.
I just switched from an Android device to an iPhone and only because my kids were telling me, ‘we can’t send you messages and all these fun things.’
So I’m actually learning about the convergence from Apple first hand over the past couple of weeks. Now when my phone rings and I don’t answer it, immediately I see that it starts ringing on my computer and I’m able to move files back and forth seamlessly between the devices. And from a convergence perspective that way, I think that’s awesome.

What will be the next big step change in mobility?

The convergence between cloud and mobility will get tighter and we’ll need to better understand how the cloud and mobility tie into the traditional enterprise landscape.
Identity is the really big, important thing that an enterprise needs to get a handle on.
We talk about any device, anywhere for anybody. Which is a good thing but at the same time there’s a growing detachment from IT teams.
20 years ago we would know the people in the IT team and they would know us, because they would come to our desks and set us up. Now, when we can work anywhere, from a coffee shop, a hotel or at a desk, we can be just as productive anywhere, but the network changes.
Therefore being able to really identify who that end user is and what they’re doing and how they’re doing it within the appropriate controls, I think, is really where the next major change needs to happen in mobility.
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