This is the first of what I hope will be a number of cross-over blogs focusing on both the politics and the technology behind some of the stories hitting the news. This blog will look at the issue from a technology perspective, and our sister blog “The Centre” will look at the same issue from a political standpoint.
Yesterday the Federal Information Commissioner for Canada issued a report detailing a problem in the Federal government with Instant messaging. Ministers and staff members are using Instant messaging and BlackBerry PIN to PIN messaging to communicate with each other, often about government business. The problem with this method of communication at the government level is that there is do easy, or direct method to backup and record these transactions. Under the Federal Access to Information Act, all business regarding government needs to be recorded and archived. PIN to PIN messaging and Instant Messaging (Such as BBM) can easily be deleted with little to no trace of any conversation taking place.
Naturally it is not a far stretch to see in many instances why conversations would like to be kept off the record, in personal, business and government roles. The main difference though is that personal conversations being kept under wraps are simply that: a personal matter. Even in business, there is lots of legitimate times conversations would want to be kept off the record. When it comes to government however, while communications needs to be secured, being kept off the record is a major issue. You need to look no further than the current Canadian Senate scandal to see why records need to be kept to verify transactions and conversations.
The commissioner put forward the recommendation that all Instant messaging and PIN messaging be halted in government departments. This is a recommendation the current government does not seem keen on and has announced it will not accept the recommendations.
From a technology perspective, instant communications through text, BBM, PIN or other instant messaging platforms has become not just the norm for government operations, it has become essential to provide information quickly and accurately to personnel. In all areas, Instant messaging is able to bring short, quick messages to people when they need it. It has been adopted at many major companies as a viable communications tool, even over email or voice.
So the dilemma exists: How do you get government staff and ministers to stop using a technology that they rely on every day and that has obvious benefits?
A New Market?
Instant messaging platforms have been seeing some serious attention from investors recently. WhatsApp and Kik are 2 platforms that have seen significant interest from venture capitalists. BlackBerry, for all its troubles, has seen a resurgence in popularity over its BBM instant messaging platform being ported over to both the iPhone and Android devices. BlackBerry could very well leverage interest in BBM in determining its future company value. Yet for all the interest, most instant messaging platforms bring in little to no revenue. The big question many messaging companies are looking at is how to turn those valuable users into revenue generators?
There is a potential market here for those instant messaging businesses to be able to create and sell a solution to governments. A solution that would provide all the benefits of direct instant messaging currently being enjoyed, while providing a backend that can automatically backup and archive all messages. And BlackBerry seems like the perfect business to tackle it.
Already, BlackBerry is heavily integrated into Governments, and BlackBerry Enterprise Server does have the ability to log and audit BBM and PIN messaging. As Blackberry undergoes the inevitable changes that it will need to take, focusing on service solutions will be how it can save itself; And government management of mobile devices, for security and message archiving is where it can leverage its strengths to create a solution that is profitable and accountable.
Its surprising that the government currently does not archive its PIN and BBM messages, (at least in my understanding of the report) but this provides an excellent opportunity to see if the former darling of the Canadian tech landscape can prove once again it is still relevant by solving an issue it essentially created.