Five Ways to Mix Business and Personal Data on Your Smartphone

Protect personal and work data on your smartphone.
Smartphones now make up almost half of all phone sales, and many millions of people use them for personal communications as well as work-related tasks. Yet, few people want to carry multiple phones at all times just to separate the workday from their home life. Here are five ways you can access your business and personal accounts without having to carry two phones.

1. Virtual Machines

One method of making a personal phone safe for work data is through software installed onto your personal phone by your employer. Mobile Device Management (MDM) software like Microsoft's System Center can control settings on your phone, making sure your security setup is safe for work data. Another option is virtual machine software like VMware’s MVP, which was demonstrated at CES on an Android-powered LG phone, which allows a phone to maintain a separate business environment with its own apps and settings, like a phone within a phone, making a clear distinction between work and personal data. These solutions are still very new, so they may not be an option yet at your workplace.

2. Remote Desktop

Similar to using a virtual machine, there are many apps that allow a smartphone to access a Mac or PC, letting you see and control the programs running on the faraway computer. Examples include TeamViewer on iOS and Android, or LogMeIn on iOS and LogMeIn Ignition on Android. Such remote desktop apps provide another way to have a clear line between work and personal data, but this method relies heavily on having a reliable data connection. Without that, you won’t be able to see your work computer or access any of its programs or data.

3. Proxy Account

For some purposes, there are ways to access the data from one type of account via another account. For example, using forwarding and filters, it’s possible to forward messages from your work email account automatically to a specific folder or label in your personal account. This is also common on calendars, where you could give your Google Apps for Business Calendar work account full proxy access to allowing you to see and manage it through your personal Google Calendar. You can even use Google Voice to forward calls from one of your numbers to the other. Some of these options are available through other systems as well, like Exchange with Outlook.

4. Multiple Accounts

LogMeIn Ignition
LogMeIn Ignition
Having multiple accounts, similar to using multiple login profiles on a computer, is another possibility. Though Android phones don’t provide multiple profiles, they do allow syncing with multiple Google accounts. Google’s Calendar app uses this to display calendars from multiple accounts, all comingled on the same screen. Google’s Gmail app does something similar, but keeps the data from multiple accounts separate, allowing you to switch among them. You can even have different notification sounds for each account, so you know by the tone when work or personal email arrives. Windows Phone 7.5 just added some limited syncing options as well, allowing access to 25 Google calendars on a handset, and a “Send Mail As” option that can include your work email address.

5. Multiple Apps

For those instances where one app won’t work for both work and personal purposes, then two apps will have to do. On any phone this is common for email, where you might use the Gmail or Yahoo mobile apps for personal mail, and the Email app which can use Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync for access to your company's Exchange server. If you want to keep your Web browser bookmarks, cookies, and cache separate, you can use the default smartphone browser for personal while installing another browser, like Dolphin, on Android and iOS for work.

What’s Best?

What method works best for you depends on your circumstances. In general, comingling your data isn’t a good idea, and many companies have policies against accessing your work mail through a personal email account. In a business where data security is vital, MDM or virtual machine software is best. If you always have a strong data connection from your smartphone, a remote desktop app will also keep sensitive data safe. Short of that, most people are likely to have a mix of apps that support multiple accounts, like Gmail on Android for their email, while using multiple apps for other activities where one app can’t do both.

Joseph Fieber has 25 years experience as an IT pro, with a background in computer consulting and software training. Follow him on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter, or contact him through his website, JosephFieber.com.

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