The relatively new trend in mobile management, especially in small business environments, is BYOD (or Bring Your Own Device). Be it an iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, or Android, business owners are seeing a noticeable shift in business culture as employees continue to bring their mobile data devices to work. The main concern: can businesses securely integrate personal mobile devices?
Standard Mobile Practice
Seems hard to believe, but it’s important to remember that up until just a few years ago, handheld personal devices simply weren’t a day-to-day standard. Oftentimes, the only way many people obtained a smartphone or PDA-type device was through their place of employment. So, a provided, standard mobile device covered by the company’s carrier was really the only way of doing business. But now there’s an emerging choice in mobile management, with the advent of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).
When a company provides a standard mobile device, you’re looking at minimized risk. Your IT support is concentrated and comprehensive. Plus, support documentation and training are easily standardized, allowing for easy inter-office cross-training. Typically, employee assignment to a particular gadget means the IT department sets up each device, and though the employees don’t get a lot of choices or flexibility, that IT department does provide support for every provided device and for every possible malfunction or security breach situation.
On the Horizon: BYOD
So why adopt BYOD? Well, it’s not that business owners necessarily prefer BYOD (though it’s arguably preferred by employees who don’t want to juggle more than one device). It’s more so that the BYOD idea is increasingly prevalent, and therefore worth exploring. It’s just plain happening, here and now. The perceived benefits are: increased agility and employee productivity, cost-savings in training and mobile allowances in general, device flexibility, and an increased awareness of the partnership between the employee and the business itself.
The continuing surge in the handheld consumer device market means consumer devices are outpacing business devices in technology, popularity and relevance. Consumers want to choose devices and platforms they’re comfortable with, but can this pick-and-choose culture work in a business climate that requires standardization, and (perhaps most important) security?
As consumer devices advance, business server software has also become progressively more flexible, allowing almost any device to connect - often quite securely (especially the big guys, like MS Exchange and Google Apps). But increased flexibility must be matched by increased security – and that’s where BYOD gets tricky.
The truth is, all these devices store data differently, so there’s an expected transparency required from employees so that IT can effectively protect sensitive client and contract information. And yes, with BYOD, users are already familiar with their own devices, so little training is required. However, if there is a technical problem, sure, the IT person can adjust the settings, but if the problem isn’t resolved, that employee may be required to call their carrier directly. Plus, you’re looking at a potential security risk. This blurred line between personal and business mobile use just isn’t something all employees will buy into – and this could mean liability issues for the company.
This is why it’s important for businesses to have a clear mobile policy, especially if deciding to make the leap to BYOD. BYOD policies should address situations in which employees may be paying out of their own pockets to configure their device to company requirements. Consider the liability concerns if an employee’s personal phone contains sensitive company information. The Android platform is particularly ill-equipped for this situation: there is no way to centrally administer all company devices. So if a phone is lost or stolen, or if an employee quits under sensitive circumstances, there is no way to remotely wipe that data from their device.
BYOD IS happening – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because as technology improves and affects our lives, we must evolve our businesses accordingly. But that doesn’t mean BYOD is right for every company. If you’re a small business with a clear BYOD policy and employees who aren’t strangers to technology – BYOD could be a good option for your workforce. But, seeing as this approach to mobile policy is relatively new, it’s important to be sure your network can support a variety of devices securely and to establish policies that clearly outline mobile device expectations for your employees. Eventually, BYOD could very foreseeably replace traditional computer practices as well. Picture it: instead of giving employees a laptop, they’re given a budget and a set of requirements. So now’s the time to explore the BYOD revolution – it’s coming soon to a small business near you!