Thornton May: Caught between mobility's rock and hard place

A high-potential millennial told the CIO at a big-name pharmaceutical company during her exit interview that she found the work environment toxic. Her main complaint was that the enterprise did not allow use of the modern consumer technologies and applications that she perceives as comprising her personal and professional identity. This is mobility's rock: People want the interface, the ease of use, the "cool" factor, the freedom and the functionality of consumer technology in the workplace.

Recently, about 100 CIOs sat mesmerized as two clean-cut, well-groomed and impressively articulate young men demonstrated an exploit that breached two smartphones (iOS and Android). This is mobility's hard place: Smartphones don't meet enterprise security requirements.

All CIOs today find themselves caught between the two.

I have long contended that the best cyberdefense begins and ends with an educated user, accelerated deployment and empathetic IT action. While infosec can't fix stupid, it can play a major role in eradicating ignorance. At a recent CISO Summit, I bumped into Wombat Security Technologies, a company founded by computer science faculty members at my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University. Wombat offers an innovative approach to getting time-obsessed executives to better appreciate the implications of bad security behavior.

But what enterprises really need is to turn mobility's rock and hard place into a value quarry. To do that, IT and the business together must create high-value mobile capabilities at the pace of business opportunity. This is not as impossible as it seems, though it does require ending the occupational apartheid that characterizes most large enterprises today. Professionals who know everything there is to know about security, technology deployment, mobile app development and the future needs of future customers must join together in creativity-enhancing ready rooms. There they must conceptualize, design and prototype capabilities designed to delight employees and/or customers.

A must-read for those who seek to understand and benefit from the mobile phenomenon is Adam Greenfield's 2006 book, Everyware, which challenged the historical limits of IT's purview -- locations inside the enterprise. Greenfield, who went on to be Nokia's head of design direction for user interface and services, said that in the future, information will be delivered in a manner appropriate to our location and context. Every enterprise is a technology company, and every location a potential informated work, play or learning space. (Informating, a term coined in 1988 by Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff, is the process that translates descriptions and measurements of activities, events and objects into information.) The technologies, techniques and applications that make this possible are everyware. But everyware is not just a geographical concept. It has a temporal dimension -- everywhen -- as well.

In Greenfield's future, we will no longer append automated out-of-office tags to email responses. We will no longer hide bad thinking and spelling behind "Sent from my mobile phone" messages. If you are still breathing, you will be expected to conform to the digital mores of the age. The 7/24, always-on economy means we are always at work, always productive and secure. And out from between a rock and a hard place.

Thornton A. May is author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College in Jacksonville. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter ( @deanitla).

Read more about management in Computerworld's Management Topic Center.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags managementconsumer electronicsNetworkingsecuritysmartphonesCIO

More about Harvard Business SchoolMellonNokiaTopicTwitter

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Thornton A. May

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place