Ditching your Blackberry? Spare a thought for tech workers

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The time was that servicing a legion of 'Crackberry' addicted bankers was a secure vocation, but technologists skilled in maintaining firms' mobile services are slowly being edged out as demand grows for other smart phones among financial sector workers.

Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) administrators and specialist mobile device managers are being squeezed as investment banks move towards Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) models.

“There’s a real rush for BES administrators to retrain in other operating systems – overall we’ve trained 7,000 individuals over the last 12 months,” said Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy at mobile IT firm MobileIron, which works with Barclays and Blackstone. “Most investment banks are gravitating to iOS, and the skills they currently have in-house are not up to scratch and they either need to retrain or risk becoming redundant.”

Courses at MobileIron's 'university' come in at around $600, and most banks are willing pay for the training of their employees, said Rege. Other training programmes that include development of iOS apps - internal apps are increasingly prevalent in the banking sector - cost around £1,500 ($2,300).

For years, BES administrators have held secure positions. Investment banks have been slow to move away from solely offering their employees company-issued Blackberrys to a BYOD approach, which allows staff to hook their personal mobiles up to corporate systems, due to both security and cost concerns.

Now the shift is starting to happen. Goldman Sachs is examining its BYOD policy in 2013, Citigroup is well advanced with its policy and expects a 66% drop in Blackberry use, Bank of America is moving towards it, while Barclays created its own app store for employees and rolled out tablets across its branches. J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank currently have no BYOD plans.

Ryan Thomson, marketing manager at Vodafone Global Enterprise, said that Blackberry’s “end to end” security control was one of the reasons that it has dominated in the financial sector for so many years.

“However, the swell of employee demand for BYOD and buy in from the C level is starting to change this approach,” he said.

This resistance to change, as well as embracing the development of internal apps for employees, has made it difficult for banks to attract the right talent, suggests Rege. “There’s a new generation of IT professional, with a broader skill-set across mobile and user experience that have traditionally shied away from the financial sector. Banks will be anxious to bring in some new blood.”

Cost is also an issue; while most banks offset the price of commercial tariffs by restricting employees’ data use on Apple and Samsung devices, they would have typically opted for the “lower end” Blackberry handsets worth less than £200, said Thomson. The iPhone starts at around £300.

However, research by mobile device management firm, Good Technology, said that most financial services organisations spend between $60-100 on each company-owned device. The most popular BYOD approach was to allow employees to pay for their own phone, access to corporate systems and then reimburse eligible expenses to a point. This model offers “tremendous cost-savings”, it said.

Then there's the diminishing security concerns over alternative devices. 'Dual persona' software, which allows employers to keep control of the corporate data on their employees' personal mobile phone, is emerging as a solution, said Thomson. Blackberry is launching its Balance software to allow people to use tablets and mobile devices for work without compromising privacy, but it also faces competition from VMware and Red Bend Software.

“Blackberry’s advantage was always the security control it allowed, but dual persona software has helped bridge that gap,” said Thomson.

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