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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Work and personal profiles on a single mobile phone

Various companies in the mobile business have pitched me recently with the idea of separate personal and work "profiles" or "personalities" on mobile phones. The Nokia E71 has a way to toggle back and forth between these personae, and various enterprise unified communications (UC) suites are also talking up the idea.

In theory, there are some benefits:

- ability for user to personalise the phone with ringtones, wallpaper etc, but also have it "locked down" for business use
- ability for enterprise to distinguish between work- and personal-related calling, perhaps for internal accounting or benefit-taxation reasons
- supposedly helping the employee to manage their "work-life balance"
- helping the enterprise "own" their worker's business mobile number, so that if they leave employment it can be rescinded.

All these are worth goals, but largely fail to take into account typical user behaviour:

- The phone that the employee wants is probably different to the phone the employer wants to supply (5MP camera, looks cool, available in pink or green etc)
- Phones (and services) are cheap. There is an increasing likelihood that employees with company phones or email device will also have a personal mobile
- Possible legal liabilities of holding personal data on a business mobile device, especially if backed up in a corporate UC server. In the UK, for example, this is definitel a grey area when it comes to the Data Protection Act.
- Increasingly, the end user will want to do more on their mobile than just phone calls, and separating work & personal profiles makes it especially difficult to manage things like web browsing, personal email, data plan costs etc
- Privacy concerns of the individual, especially regarding deeply-personal call, SMS etc made from a "work" device. What is the legal/contractual status of using the device to call a recruitment consultant, for instance? Is it grounds for dismissal?

Overall, my view is that the dual-personality concept is vastly overstated in importance for this use case. However, the concept can be modified to help blend "work mobile" and "work fixed" numbers on the same device, which is much more useful.


Unknown said...

As I travel today, I'm actually planning on changing out the profiles on my E71 to be something closer to phone-as-information and phone-as-central-tool. So one will have web, gmail, search, etc. The other will have the presenter, office, and so forth.

The work vs. personal isn't working for me. Way too much overlap, way too long to do the switch.

Martin Geddes said...

I found the mode swap function on the E71 slow and useless. If there was some true integration with the network ("you are a business caller and Martin is enjoying some leisure right now") then it might have some point. The only use case I see is the self-employed worker, where some of your objections disappear as you and the company are one and the same.

harrall said...

I actually use the work/personal profiles on my E71 - especially on weekends when I do not want to be reminded that I have 15 undone to-dos and unread emails.....
I don't have any statistics available, but I know only a handful of people with two mobile devices. Personally I think it would be a hazzle with multiple chargers, price plans, and contact/sim info. So in order to meet my mobile need you would have to make a device that serves professional needs (workmail, office, calendar) and private needs (private mail, podcast/music, gps stuff). And the work/personal profile feature is one way of doing that. (But I agree that it takes a long time to switch on the E71.)

Anonymous said...

10% to 15% of people in the US carry a second phone, mainly to separate work and personal life, and as clumsy as that solution is I agree it's better than any of the attempts I've seen so far to split one phone in half, for all of the reasons you mention.

Profiles might make more sense for laptops. More and more people want to use their own laptop for work, or to store music, photos, and other personal files on their employer-provided laptop. Many of your objections still apply, but nobody wants to carry two laptops.

Unknown said...

Personally work and home blend in to one. It's too much hassle to separate. Perhaps I don't have a work-life balance.

It does make for problems sometimes though. For example you can pay for your parking in downtown Lincoln by sending an SMS. Because my mobile is provided by work I don't do it. The only way around this as far as I can see is to have two phones which is just a pain.

Note that we pioneered for one customer the ability for an individual to make personal calls by adding a prefix to the number dialled. our billing system recognised that this would be a personal call. I can't say this has taken off.

The one area that I would find useful is if my wife and I could merge calendars so that we could see what each other was up to. As it is she writes hers on the calendar in the kitchen and I don't. Makes for interesting scenes sometimes as you might imagine.

Anonymous said...

Carrying two mobile is a big hassle. I tried it but it didn't work out. What I do now is I take my 5 MP, 30 fps video recorder personal phone with all bells and whistles on weekends and vacations and Mon-Fri I carry my blackberry. Oh, I forward the calls from my blackberry to my personal number when I don't carry it so I don't miss important calls.

Dean Bubley said...

Thanks all - some good insights here. As I said, some people are definitely "convergistas", preferring to have a single device, while others are committed "separatistas".

The proportion varies by country, job function, age and gender.

I'd estimate that in the UK, at least 25% of people carry 2+ devices, and among those that have a company-issued phone or Blackberry, probably 50%+ also have a personal one.

This will be more true in markets which saw early massmarket mobile uptake - consumers are unlikely to want to ditch their long-held personal number (& habits) when they get offered a company phone later in life. Conversely, if your business device was your first phone, your habits will reflect that.

Also, outside US & Japan, the dominance of prepaid tariffs means that individuals have much lower barriers to maintaining a second phone.

I expect that there is also a preference for a single device among people don't carry bags routinely, or who live in climates/cultures without garments that have a lot of pockets. I don't know a female in London with a Blackberry who doesn't also have a second phone in her bag, for instance.

I also see lots of teenagers and students with 2 or 3 phones - either so they can arbitrage "on net" vs "off net" tariffs, or because they want to separate two sets of friends & acquaintances. ("Only my real friends know this number")

Lastly, I'd say that features like call forwarding or calendar-sharing will probably be used by less than 1% of "non-techies".

To me, this means that any operator or enterprise UC system will ideally support both models, to fit better with user preferences and psychology. I don't think it's easy to change separatista into convergista, or vice versa.