Loose Lips Sink Ships

English: Bow section of tanker SS Pendleton gr...

Technology makes life easier. And more often we are less aware of what we are giving away for that ease. Beyond the privacy concerns of the big social platforms, businesses are struggling with the confluence of pervasive communications, Big Data, consumerization of IT, privacy and data security. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Big companies are paying attention, though. With the proliferation of BYOD and consumer-grade technology in the enterprise there is good reason to be concerned. When I heard about IBM’s recent reaction to use of Siri it reminded me of what I had written a while back about how the iPhone Sits on the Cusp of Consumer and Enterprise. The one word I highlighted? Control.

Growing Pains

Once upon a time all data lived in one place and access was carefully managed and guarded by monolithic IT departments. As businesses over the last three decades decentralized from mainframes to local networks and departmental technology solutions — what Marc Neer of InfoManage Corporation likes to call “pockets of technology” — for the most part control still resided within the realm of the IT department. These pockets of technology stretched the boundaries and limitations of standards and methodologies, but managed to continue to function and thrive.

But what do you do when every employee represents a unique pocket of technology?

Security Is More Than A Lock On The Door

We use the term “infrastructure” when we talk about the guts of information technology, much as we do in a physical building or facility. It has long been IT’s responsibility to maintain the infrastructure — servers, networks, databases, software — that supported business functions. A major aspect of maintaining this infrastructure is securing one of a businesses most valuable assets: data. And we’re not just talking about general ledger and ERP. This includes proprietary information like intellectual property and communications.

Securing data is a complex task. It requires making sure data is protected from accidents, mischief and malicious intent. Accidents could include hardware failures or user error. Safeguarding against mischief and malicious intent is generally a matter of securing access: ingress and egress.

The challenge? Consumer technology was not built with any of this in mind. It’s like a trojan horse. Bringing consumer technology into the enterprise undermines the central function of the those you’ve put in charge of safeguarding one of your most valuable assets.

Innovation Marches On

I’m not trying to protect the status quo of IT department hegemony but merely pointing out the slippery slope of adopting technology without understanding the impact. Something as innocuous as voice recognition on a smartphone can have undesired consequences and repercussions.

No one is going to stem the inevitable adoption of smartphone and cloud-based solutions in business environments. But we do need to at least spend some time thinking about the risk/reward proposition these new technologies represent. I think the IBM Siri decision represents a pause for a deep breath. I expect more companies will follow suit as they sort through the chaotic sprawl of technology that is the new normal.

Technology enabling the newest aspects of  pervasive communications — our hyper-connected, ubiquitous, non-linear, and chaotic state — will continue to create challenges for businesses. We need to continue to ask the right questions. What else are we missing?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.