There are ways around BlackBerry, and some Feds are already doing it

Just say no to BlackBerry (and tell your friends too!)

If you rode the metro to work yesterday, you probably saw the Washington Post Express which headlined with, “In BlackBerry We Trust.” It details Washington’s love affair with the BlackBerry mobile smartphone. It is likely that if you know anyone in government, they have two phones, personal and work. And that work phone is almost always a BlackBerry.

Right now, Android has 50% of the US smartphone market, Apple is at around 32%. That’s not counting the number of iPads (and some Android tablets) out in the wild. The utter dominance of the two platforms does not leave a lot of space for anyone else. However, the federal government does not seem to care (only somewhat to the chagrin of their employees). Many employees I’ve talked to like the “separation of church and state,” for two reasons; they do not want their personal information accessible by work and they do not want their personal time accessible by work. Cecilia Kang wrote this post, and found that the government preferred the BlackBerry ecosystem for a variety of reasons;

  • the first is security, BlackBerry is FIPS 140-2 compliant, which no other platform can offer
  • BlackBerry is cheaper than iPhone, and cheaper than most Android devices as well
  • incumbent staff is trained to deal with BlackBerry systems
Some government workers are happy with their BlackBerrys. There is always BBM and the full keyboard. However, many are looking for a real touchscreen, the apps that all their friends have, and the freedom this generation smartphones offer.

But government workers don’t have to despair. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Projects at the VA are enabling encapsulated data to be displayed on the devices – yet no data is stored locally. This puts the data safely in a FIPS 140-2 secured container. This is the sort of innovative solution that is needed in government technology.

Both the FAA and the VA are leading the vanguard in alternative device adoption. The FAA is teaching classes both with iPads and without – to analyze potential value add. The VA has an open door policy which allows employees to pitch iPad use-cases, and if they pass, provide the devices.

We are moving past the technological constraints of the BlackBerry (bandwidth, screen size, multimedia capabilities) and our government needs to move with us. The BlackBerry is an aging device, one which cannot deliver the rich web content we are used to consuming. Soon, you should expect to see a variety of devices in the hands of our government employees, consuming their data through secured applications that deliver their capabilities they need.

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Steven Santoni

So playing devil’s advocate here… what you are suggesting is people switch to insecure devices in order to play Angry Birds.

Most of the folks that are looking for ways to “secure” their device are looking at Good… which if you look at their FIPS certification- is from Windows Mobile (ie, a long time ago) and should be performed against new systems. (this is why RIM, doing the right thing, went through a new FIPS certification process on the PlayBook)

If I can take an Android or iOS device, connect it to a computer and access the data with little effort or with known security cracking tools- how safe do you feel using that device for your work data?

Personally – I’m am for giving the users the device they can accomplish their work best with. But if security is a concern, I don’t see how you can feel confident in a non-BlackBerry solution.

Pierre Laframboise

I suspect that the market demand will drive BlackBerry to improve the technology and functionality of BlackBerry devices, OS and applications to compete with the offerings of their competitors. Then it will be catch up time for others to be secure and reliable as the BlackBerry.

This comment is from Theraspberry… franglais pun intended.

Corey McCarren

I think I’d prefer a Blackberry for business if it’s able to do all of the tasks I need it to. However, it seems like bring your own device might be the alternative to a blackberry only model, as I’ve learned at FOSE. There’s problems for sure, but I think the idea of a secure shell within the employees personal device is interesting. I still think I’d prefer separate devices, though. There’s a lot of liability issues with a personal device being used for work as well.

Eric S. Mueller

I’ve predicted on my personal blog that RIM will either go out of business or be forced to adapt as soon as government and corporate customers find a way to secure other devices. I know some people prefer BlackBerrries for their personal phones, but the majority of RIM’s purchases come from government and business.

I don’t mind work and personal on the same device, as long as work doesn’t intrude into my personal time when I don’t want it to. I was a Realtor a couple years ago, and ran my entire business largely from a laptop and an iPhone 3G. I didn’t have a problem keeping business from intruding into personal when I didn’t want it to.

Allison Primack

Here’s what some GovLoopers have been saying about their Blackberry on Facebook:

Jennifer Mason I have a choice- Bb or iPhone. I’ve had both and for email, I prefer Bb

Mark Kane Issued a Blackberry, it does what it’s supposed to do.

Christopher Huerta Yep, I have to have it and the only option my group got was the carrier, so we chose Sprint. Most of the features on ours are turned off and we don’t have admin rights so we can’t use them. All my BB is good for is e mail and messages and phone calls. Don’t see the point, mail comes in slow sometimes and there are system outages all the time. My cell is so much better and can do so much more. I couldn’t even get on fb on my Gov BB, I did this on my own cell.