Managing the changing world of office technology
The growing popularity of smart personal devices and laptops has left IT departments struggling to regulate access to their systems. Darren Hart investigates the benefits and risks of “Bring Your Own Device” policies
On paper, it seems like a sensible idea: mobile workers having permission to use their own handsets (eg, iPhone, Blackberry or Android smartphones), tablets or laptops in the office for use and connectivity, as a means of freeing up standard-issue office equipment. Thanks to a widespread adoption of this kind of policy, many employees now expect to be able to use their devices in the office to access WiFi networks and company servers.
However, a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) system can be a problem.
As a perennial source of frustration for IT departments, BYOD has distinguished itself in all the wrong ways since the advent of mobile phones and laptops in the 1980s. With the lower cost of owning laptops and smart mobile devices and the rise of streaming data, though, it has become much more of an issue. And thanks to the sprawl of social media and cloud computing – aka, software as a service (SaaS) – the problem is not just restricted to devices.
Many managers are finding themselves pulled to extremes on the issue, either banning BYOD outright or turning a blind eye to it. According to research by Cisco, 48% said that their company would never authorise employees to bring their own devices, yet 57% admitted that some employees use personal devices without consent.
So, what are the potential risks of such a system?
- Reduced control of systems management
- IT budgets could be slashed if staffers choose to use their own devices – regardless of whether their equipment is suitable for the task – leading to reduced buying power for office hardware
- Stress on systems not designed to support remote or uncontrolled access
- Running costs of desktop help for solving problems with unsupported hardware or software (despite their apparent technical know-how, your IT staff do not know every program and interface that the world has to offer)
- Potential security holes exposing your data – and that of your customers – to the wider world via web logins or other interfaces
- Extra investment required for ensuring the safety of that data
But despite those risks, a BYOD policy can have business value. No longer is it simply a case of personal preference dictating the product a user chooses to work on – it could actually help to achieve business objectives:
- Increased customer loyalty - Your PR staff could help a customer out via a tweet on their iPhone while watching EastEnders.
- Reduced expenses - Why provide a company phone if a member of staff is happy to use their personal phone to answer emails?
- Reduced response times - That crucial client query can be answered swiftly via email on a Blackberry while on the train home, rather than waiting till the following morning.
- Increased productivity - Do you really think that the dusty XP machine lurking on your desk and eking out a five-year replacement cycle is as powerful, or fast, as the machine you have at home?
Honing an effective BYOD policy
Along with sensible social media rules, there is definitely a responsibility among forward-thinking managers to put well-considered BYOD policies in place. This article gives an in-depth view – which would probably of more use for your IT department than the laypersons in your staff (which would make up the majority) but the basic tenets are as follows:
- It’s very difficult to say “No” to a potentially useful BYOD system, but…
- Never say “All”/“Anything goes” – limit access to a distinct set of devices
- Use virtual desktops to replicate desktop environments
- Stream software to your end users with application virtualization tools
- Ensure a proper data-containment process – individual users should have access only to the information they need
No single policy will fit for every company. It depends on what sector you work in, what data you have and whether the benefits outweigh the costs. But working closely with the more progressive members of your management team will help you get the most out of BYOD.