When he won his first U.S. presidential race back in 2008, one of the early (and unexpected) questions around the Barack Obama administration was whether he would still be allowed to use his BlackBerry. This time around, the most important discussion will be about the apps the re-elected Commander-in-Chief has at his fingertips.
Political analysts have said that if 2008 marked the first social media election – where Obama triumphed in part by mobilizing his supporters through Facebook and similar tools – 2012 could be described as more of a mobile election. Both campaigns relied heavily on apps that connected them directly with constituents, even though some worried that the way data was being collected and used put personal privacy at risk. And there were plenty of third party apps that tried to make voters better informed, or at least entertain them during what seemed like endless campaigning. Those were all at the consumer end, however. What will matter, ultimately, are the kind of apps that will be available to the leader of the free world, just as it matters what senior executives in all kinds of organizations can do via their smartphones.
The concern over Obama’s BlackBerry was derived in part from the notion that if someone were to intercept or steal his mobile device, they would gain access to confidential data stored on it that could be of grave importance to U.S. national security. It’s a different story in 2012, where apps are used not only to convey real-time information but to offer functionality that is far more transactional in nature. At the moment, of course, there probably isn’t the app equivalent of a big red button available through the White House IT department, but there may be mobile applications in existence or on the way that can approve, deny or execute some other form of command in a manner that was never possible before. This is the power of apps, and they extend far beyond the confines of the Oval Office.
Already, much of the traffic companies are seeing on corporate IP networks come from mobile apps. As more traditional enterprise applications get redesigned for mobile devices, and as new enterprise software is created with a mobile-first approach, that trend will only continue. While this obviously reduces the distance between decision-making and action, all organizations – from the U.S. government to the smallest businesses in Canada – will need to think carefully about the potential trade-offs that come from putting so much power into a smartphone.
In fact, it’s not a bad intellectual exercise for the average IT manager to imagine their CEO as the president of the United States for a moment. What degree of authorization is appropriate for them to conduct via a mobile app, and what kind of controls or safeguards need to be in place so that such a tool does not become, in the wrong hands, a weapon? This will probably not be the first issue that crosses Barack Obama’s desk this time, of course. It’s the kind of judgment call that falls to a CIO, based on their knowledge, experience and reasoning of what’s needed. As of yet, there’s no app for that.
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