by Tom Kaneshige

Mobile Workers: ‘I Want My BlackBerry Back’

Jul 21, 20143 mins
CareersConsumer ElectronicsiPhone

The leading smartphones weren't designed with business implications in mind. One of the results: When IT gets access to popular smartphones, it gets access to everything. These privacy concerns are leading many users to ask for their BlackBerry back.

At a well-known investment firm in New York City, something strange is happening: Mobile app performance issues and privacy concerns have sparked a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) revolt, and now many employees are asking for their corporate BlackBerry back.

“It’s a nightmare,” says an IT executive speaking on condition of anonymity.

The executive says he’s tried four mobile device management (MDM) products and, in every instance, has had significant problems. Architectural failings made some rollouts difficult, he says. One MDM featured an impressive containerized solution but no push notifications for email. Another wouldn’t let salespeople send email from inside the Salesforce app or open a PDF with GoodReader.

“The failure of these systems has to do with little things that drive users crazy,” the IT executive says. “We’re an investment firm with a hundred-something monkeys, everyone is super smart, everyone is a prima donna, and it’s very difficult to accommodate them.”

[Related: What Is Going Wrong with BYOD?]

Then there’s the battery drain MDM software has on phones and tablets. Some apps drain the battery in a matter of hours. One MDM solution was running down the battery on Android devices, the IT executive says, while hammering the server like a denial-of-service attack, and thus had to be removed.

Privacy Concerns Change Everything

But the biggest BYOD backlash is over privacy, or rather lack thereof.

In order to safeguard corporate data, the IT executive has had to enact BYOD user policies that favor the company’s rights over the employee’s expectations of privacy. The IT department also restricted the use of certain apps such as text messaging, because all communication between employees and clients must be retained and reviewable and text messages aren’t easy to retrieve.

Moreover, only one MDM vendor had a solution that would inform the employee that an IT admin was turning on location services or looking at the apps inventory on a BYOD. The employee could see the status but couldn’t decline such accessibility. With other vendors’ solutions, an IT admin’s actions would remain largely hidden from the employee.

[Related: Why One CIO Is Saying ‘No’ to BYOD ]

“Things like this drove a wedge between IT and the users,” says the IT executive. “We became Big Brother. Everyone was convinced that we were doing this because we wanted to see what the hell they’re doing. In reality, it’s all about protecting the data.”

Employees didn’t want the company to know their whereabouts, especially when traveling internationally, and revolted. Many would rather carry two phones — a personal phone and a corporate phone — so they can leave the corporate phone at home or in the hotel room when they go out.

“Maybe 60 percent of the people requested to go back to a BlackBerry and carry two devices,” the IT executive says. “We were shocked, blown away, by the privacy reaction.”

iPhones Never Designed for Business Use

In hindsight, the IT executive understands the emotions that can arise with privacy concerns. The problem is that iPhones are consumer devices never designed for the enterprise. The iPhone was meant for just the user, not a user and an admin. So when an admin has access to a device, the admin has access to everything.

“There really is a great deal of capability inside these devices, [such as] the ability to turn on the camera or a microphone and listen to conversations,” says the IT executive. “This stuff is pretty spooky.”