Yesterday there was a prolific (almost heated) exchange on Twitter regarding the correct use of enterprise mobility acronyms. Enterprise mobility has introduced an entire slew of acronyms into IT speak; BYOD, CoIT, MDM, MAM, MIM, EMM, etc. (*see below for the key).  However, the specifics of the Twitter exchange, and who is right and wrong, is not what I want to focus on. Instead, I want to take an historical approach as to why these new terms are emerging and how we should respond.

The dominant compute paradigm is changing. The birth of enterprise computing began with mainframes. A mainframe was a mysterious beast that was housed in an unknown place and did unknown things.  It was the ultimate black box. It was almost magical. The mainframe and our relationship to it was wonderfully personified as HAL 9000 in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey. A mainframe was cold, distant, and powerful. It acted in ways we didn’t fully understand.

As the dominant compute paradigm changed from the mainframe to the PC, so too did our relationship with computing. The PC was something we physically could see and touch on a daily basis. Computing went from something we shared to something that we individually owned. When it didn’t do what we wanted it to do we could swear at it and bang on the side of it. However, the PC was something we left at the office each day as we drove home “packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes” (virtual high five to anyone who can name that reference without using Google). We had a relationship with our PC, but it was bounded by office hours.

But now, with mobile devices, we never part with our computing device. We live in an anytime, anywhere always connected world. My relationship to this device is more intimate than ever. Not only is it physically with me at all times, but the device itself carries social status and social value. What phone you have says as much about you as the clothes you wear or the car you drive. The social circles you are a part of are determined by what apps you use. Your ability to keep connected to friends is dependent upon your mobile device. Many of us are in constant fear of losing our mobile device because of the pictures we’d lose of our kids or places we’ve been. The list goes on and on of how personal the mobile device has become. This will only increase as time goes on. We have stumbled into a culture that is intertwined with our new devices and in turn these devices are stumbling into the enterprise.

This desire for mobility is turning enterprise computing on its head. Not just from the fact that the devices are different but precisely because of our intimate nature with it. The desire to have these mobile capabilities and connectivity in our places of work represents the prime mover in our need for new acronyms. It is the spark that has caused the flame. The terms and idea behind BYOD and CoIT are desire driven. I want my device with me. I want to use it to do work. I like the device I have – hence BYOD. Beyond that, I believe my mobile device and apps makes my life easier and therefore I want it to displace clunky, confusing, and complex IT – this is CoIT.

This desire for mobility in the enterprise is also driving a second ideological change; enterprises and their IT staff want to must manage and secure digital assets in a mobile milieu. Since mobility easily breaks down and dissolves our traditional notion of a network, aka a fence, we are struggling to keep up with building new fences that keep everything properly corralled. Every time we think we have the right size fence, mobility busts through and we chase on after it. It is precisely because of this that we have the second half of the alphabet soup – MDM, MAM, MIM, EMM. At first we thought we could just corral the devices – MDM, then the apps – MAM, then the data – MIM, and so on. We have to keep setting the posts further and further out.

I do think that precise definitions are important, but expecting everyone to be on the same page with terminology for a paradigm so new is not practical. For better or worse, most people have connected BYOD with the desire to have our mobile devices at work and MDM to represent the need to manage the aftermath of that desire. The job of those of us who have a higher than average interest in the industry should be to first, focus on guiding enterprises in the most efficient and cost effective way to meet the desire for mobile devices in the enterprise and second, help identify all security threats so that enterprise management vendors can build the correct fence(s). I think constructive debate around these motifs is healthy and worthwhile. We should share what we know of success and failures. We should be at the forefront of recommending best practices. We mobile champions should work together to bring this new compute paradigm to maturity.

*Acronym Key

  • BYOD – Bring Your Own Device
  • CoIT – Consumerization of IT
  • MDM – Mobile Device Management
  • MAM – Mobile Application Management
  • MIM – Mobile Information Management
  • EMM – Enterprise Mobility Management

Benjamin Robbins is a Principal at Palador, a consulting firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobile strategy, policy, apps, and data. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.