BlackBerry Balance quietly walls off corporate and personal data

BlackBerry Balance offers a more elegant way to segregate corporate data and personal data in order to protect both the company and the individual employees.

One of the characteristics of work in the Internet age is that the boundaries between professional and personal time have blurred. Professionals often work more flexible schedules, occasionally work from home, and answer work emails on personal time during the evenings and weekends.

The same is true of the technologies that today's professionals use. In many cases, there's no longer a strict separation between home PC and work PC or between a personal cellphone and corporate smartphone. Fewer companies are deploying large fleets of smartphones and more organizations are allowing employees to connect their personal devices to corporate systems and access company data.

With that mind, RIM announced BlackBerry Balance on Monday at the BlackBerry World 2011 event in Orlando. RIM calls BlackBerry Balance a new technology, but it's actually a sophisticated set of policies that IT administrators can set on BlackBerry devices to segregate company data from the user's personal data.

Here's how RIM describes what these policies can provide:

  • Secure access to business information while preventing the information from being copied into, sent from or used by personal applications like Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live Hotmail, Google Mail or Yahoo! Mail accounts.
  • Business data or files created by business applications cannot be used by personal applications.
  • If a user attempts an action that is prohibited by IT policy, a notification is displayed on the device.

Photo credit: Jason Hiner

The goal here is to make the experience seamless for the user so they don't have to go one place to get into all of the corporate apps and data and another place to interact with all of their personal apps and data. Instead, BlackBerry Balance simply cuts off data leakage by not allowing copy-and-paste and data import/export between the corporate stuff and the personal stuff.

BlackBerry Balance is primarily aimed at employee-owned BlackBerry devices, which IT departments have slowly warmed up to but still worry about. As a result, Jeff McDowell, RIM's Senior Vice President of Business and Platform Marketing, called Balance "one of the most exciting things we're doing this year for our CIOs."

Jim Tobin, RIM's senior vice president of software and services, said, "BlackBerry Balance is a win-win for employers and employees. It's a secure and cost-effective way for companies to keep employees connected and productive, while also allowing the flexibility for employees to carry a single phone."

When companies make statements like that, it's usually for something that's a lot better for employers than employees. However, in this case, there is a tangible benefit for users. If an employee leaves the company, an IT administrator can remotely wipe the business apps and data from the device while leaving all of the user's personal data and settings alone. This is a big deal. I know I number of people who had connected their smartphones to the corporate network and then left the company and had their entire device (including personal pictures from their camera phones) remotely wiped by an IT administrator so that they didn't take any company data with them.

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