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Steering your career as a desktop admin in the mobility age

The desktop admin must now consider enterprise mobility in addition to desktop management. How you think about them can shape your career path.

As you already know if you've worked in enterprise IT for any length of time, change is inevitable. The desktop has evolved from a static canvas where each user's picture looked pretty much the same to a wildly dynamic playground where each user has his own set of rules -- whether the desktop admin likes it or not. In the past several years, we've gone from control to chaos because of evolving mobile technology. Are you evolving along with it?

The new desktop is way underrated. So is the role of the enterprise desktop admin responsible for managing it all. I met a desktop manager during a recent security assessment and learned about his environment, which included desktop vulnerabilities, minimal mobile controls and questionable management support.

I looked at him in amazement and asked, "How do you do it?" I had been in this guy's shoes before, but that was a long time ago. Things have changed, thanks to laptops, smartphones and tablets, and I didn't envy him. This raises the next question for desktop management: Are you in a position to bring some semblance of control to mobility?

Mobile is where the risk is. A sea of assets (information that's mobile) is spread across hundreds or thousands of islands (diverse mobile devices). The Ponemon Institute found that three-fourths of IT and security professionals surveyed believe that mobile will pose the biggest threat in 2014.

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Securing the enterprise desktop used to be a relatively simple matter of pushing out patches, reviewing password access, and keeping corporate-approved applications and data consistent. Endpoint mobility management and data security are still evolving in this age of bring your own device (BYOD) and the cloud.

Desktop administrators, or those who once held such titles, are often now responsible for balancing the security of sensitive data with providing users access to corporate networks and systems through BYOD. Mobile security is really no different from any other type of security -- you determine what information is where and how it's at risk, and then you do something about it.

The problem is, you can't secure what you don't acknowledge.

Outside of executives wreaking havoc with their mobile devices, arguably the biggest challenge for desktop admins is getting out the message about mobile security. According to a recent study by Ipsos, a mere 23% of U.S. workers surveyed are aware of their organizations' BYOD policies.

Sure, you can trust that your users are adults and will be good corporate citizens. Just make sure you set them up for success by communicating the dangers of mobile computing and what's expected of them. They should understand who controls data, apps and devices, as well as the consequences for lost devices (such as remote wipe). Poorly set expectations are at the root of most security failures.

Enforce your desktop and mobile security policies. If you do what you say you're going to do -- with the help of the right people, of course -- you'll minimize the risks.

The final question that needs to be answered is: How well do you play with others? You'll have to master the art of office and departmental politics in addition to honing technical skills. Your ability to properly communicate IT and security messages is key to project success and career advancement.

Ultimately, it's about developing and exercising good judgment. I recently saw a webcomic that said something to the effect that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. What can you learn from past problems with access controls or from the challenges other IT shops have faced?

You'll need foresight to integrate emerging mobile technology with existing desktop management experience. Certifications can be helpful, but the ability to look ahead and steer your team is even more so.

Take your "new" role as enterprise desktop manager seriously. It's still one of the most important jobs in IT. You and a select few in your organization are all who stand between old-school desktops and the spread of mobile uncertainty across industries. Get educated and take action. If you don't, data breaches will still occur -- you'll just be on the wrong side of the equation.

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How are you balancing mobility with desktop admin duties?
My admin process has certainly changed with the very efficient syncing of the operating systems of mobile devices to desktops and laptops. I find I use my mobile devices for many of the day-to-day admin duties I once did from the desktop or laptop. I oversee task management, staff management and schedules mostly from my mobile devices because the information gets sent out immediately, even if I am on the subway or traveling, and two, because I am no longer bound to my desk. I find I get more done with this new balance between the two.