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Mobile Apps Can Have Strategic Impact: If Mobile Risk Can Be Managed

I just returned from a meeting at Fixmo where I had an opportunity to talk with Fixmo CEO Rick Segal and other members of his key leadership team. I am enthused to be on the Fixmo advisory board because they are bringing such virtuous capabilities to enterprise and home users. We will be providing more info on Fixmo as they roll out new capabilities we believe you should be aware of. But with this post I want to summarize an interesting piece by Bloomberg that talks of the Fixmo use case in ways that put their capabilities in terrific context. The Bloomberg piece is titled: IPhones Guide Artillery Fire as Pentagon Plans App Store

The article highlights an application written by an innovative American Army Officer, Captain Jonathan Springer. His iPhone app, titled TacticalNav, is available to anyone with an iPhone or iPad. According to Bloomberg, Captain Springer built this app based on his own mission needs and desire plus lots of his own savings. Good on you soldier! This is a great app and I just ordered it.

Here is more from the Bloomberg article:

At Camp Blessing in Afghanistan’s Pech Valley, some American soldiers played “Angry Birds” on their iPhones when off-duty. Jonathan Springer decided to put his device to a different use: building an app to help fight the Taliban.

“I wanted to give something back to soldiers that might help save their lives,” Springer, 32, said in an interview from his base at Fort Bragg,North Carolina.

The result is Tactical Nav, an iPhone application the U.S. Army captain built with $30,000 of his savings and a maxed-out credit card a year ago. The $5.99 app uses GPS technology and the iPhone’s camera to chart coordinates and guide artillery fire. It has been downloaded about 8,000 times by U.S., Canadian and Australian soldiers, as well as hunters and hikers, Springer said. From e-mails he has received from soldiers who have gone on patrol with it, the app has been used in both combat and training, Springer said.

If Teri Takai gets her way, American soldiers, sailors and marines may all soon be able to download Tactical Nav and other military programs through a dedicated U.S. Defense Department app store. Takai, the department’s chief information officer, wants to build a secure network of smartphone apps to help soldiers fight in new ways, from more precise maps to better manuals. If security challenges get resolved, the project will result in a revenue source for app developers and a potential boon for iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

“We would like a full range of devices to be able to securely operate with a DoD app store, but also be able to utilize commercial app stores,” Takai said in an interview in a small, windowless conference room at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

The Bloomberg piece also quotes a friend and mentor of mine, retired General Ken Minihan, former director of the National Security Agency. General Minihan currently leads Paladin Capital Group, a private equity firm that invests in several sectors, including national and homeland security mission needs. The Bloomberg piece reads:

The Pentagon, whose research arm spawned the first version of the Internet in the 1960s, is now turning to technologies developed by civilians as it seeks to make its fighting force nimbler. Takai’s challenge is to create an environment in which soldiers can improvise on devices like Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad (AAPL) without letting the Pentagon’s security standards slip.

Soldiers “in a fight innovate and use all the technologies they have,” said Kenneth Minihan, who was director of the National Security Agency from 1996 to 1999. “It’s a very natural phenomenon to come out of troops in combat.”

Minihan runs Paladin Capital Group, a Washington-based company that invests in security-technology companies including software maker Fixmo Inc. He said the Pentagon is right to embrace these new innovations.

“If you go back to the Cold War, it was government- developed technology that we would introduce into the commercial sector,” Minihan said. “Today most of those technologies come from the private sector and get introduced to the public sector — it’s the reverse.”

Now consider the the vulnerabilities of current smart phone approaches and the growing threat from very bad actors against mobile devices. We have written about both extensively, including the recent Bryan Halfpap piece on Government Android Should Concern You and the Alex Olesker piece on How the Federal Government is Slowly Embracing Mobile. Threats and context were also provided by Dillon Behr in his Fixmo Sentinel: Manage Your Mobile Risk.

Considering all the above at the same time leads to a few conclusions. For one, we should all be very proud of the continuing innovation of great americans like Captain Springer. When visionary leaders move out and create new capabilities the results can change the world. We should all also reflect on the context of Ken Minihan who reminds us of the importance of building our innovations on private sector technologies. But most important, in my view, is the need for security and risk management as an enabler to make this happen. If we are going to succeed in the mobile space we must mitigate the risks involved. Which leads back to my opening point. I am enthused to be part of a team called Fixmo. This firm is fielding mobile risk management (MRM) solutions that continuously verify the configuration and integrity of mobile devices, protect them from data loss, track compliance with policy, and enable proof that all the above is being done.

Now do you see why I am so enthused to be on the team at Fixmo? Use of Fixmo capabilities means innovations from great creators in and out of government can be put to use in ways that reduce risk to mission.

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