Companies 'need to secure and control mobile devices'

Each week we ask high-profile technology decision-makers three questions.

Image caption The biggest challenge is securing the growing number of mobile devices, according to Scott Petty

This week it's Scott Petty, director of business products and services for mobile phone giant Vodafone.

Vodafone is based in Newbury in the UK, and employs 85,000 people serving 341m customers. In the last financial year the company had a turnover of £44.5bn, and made a pre-tax profit of £8.7bn.

What's your biggest technology problem right now?

The biggest challenge is the growth of the plethora of mobile devices, and how to manage them.

There used to be a time when the IT department could dictate to users which devices they used. That's changed now with all the new smartphones, tablets and mobile devices.

But how do you secure them and control them? A business can't afford to lose the content on these devices.

So the industry has to build the right tools to manage them.

Tablet computers, for example, are increasingly being used by senior executives. They store all the financial information on their iPad or Android device, and carry that around with them.

These devices may not be encrypted. They may not have the appropriate security policies, and they may get lost.

The sensitivity of data held by senior executives is very high, and making them as secure as on the PC is a challenge.

Smartphones have an especially high rate of loss - they are left behind in taxis and on trains.

We have a number of customers who left their devices on aeroplanes.

Most mobile operating systems already offer some basic level of encryption.

So the problem is not the provision of security, but how to configure it right, especially when the users bring their own technology into the workplace.

For our own business we have deployed a device management solution that puts an access code on all devices, giving us the ability to wipe all data remotely and ensure location awareness.

The key thing for organisations is to get this into place. They can't leave it to the end user to do their self-configuration.

It is important to have these technical solutions, but you also have to think about the training for users as well.

Most importantly, any solution has to be as unobtrusive as possible.

What's the next big tech thing in your industry?

I think the continued mobilisation of the internet is fundamentally going to change the way the internet is being used.

We once assumed the PC screen would be the consumption device, but in most markets the mobile internet will soon overtake fixed internet.

Then there is machine-to-machine communication that will connect new devices and drive the mobile internet.

A good example is Unilever, who embed [mobile phone] SIM cards in icecream machines, to alert them when the machine needs restocking or maintenance. That is delivering huge savings.

Then their marketing department came up with a great social media concept to market it. If you produce a big enough smile, you get an ice cream for free - and the machine uploads an image of you smiling [with permission] to Facebook.

In both the consumer and business context, user choice will be driving future developments and there will be an increasing number of form factors.

Where convergence plays a role, it's about the integration of what you do on all these devices. The applications will converge, and content will be shared across different form factors, through the cloud. But the number of form factors of devices will increase.

What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?

The more time you spend in the tech industry, the more you realise that things don't change as quickly as you expect.

For example when PDAs became available, I was an Apple Newton fan, then a Win CE fan, but these devices lacked the connectivity they needed. I was convinced we would all be using PDAs, not personal computers.

I invested in a platform like the Newton that didn't take off because the technology was too early ... it only took off once we got smart phones.

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