Smartphones, laptops and tablets of every make and model are making their way from homes to offices. These shiny new toys, while a delight to their users, promise to make already complex IT organizations more difficult to manage.
Despite the threat to corporate order, experts say the advantages of allowing employees to bring their own devices to work far outweigh the disadvantages. In fact, BYOD, as it’s come to be called, is one of the latest trends in modern IT. And how to make sense of this flood of new devices has become among the leading challenges for IT managers.
The advantages, as they see it, are myriad. Employees like to use their own gear and they have a greater incentive to learn their intricacies. That, in turn, will boost both morale and productivity, experts maintain. And not only will BYOD save on purchasing costs, it will translate into lower IT support expenditures. In theory, employees who really understand the features on their equipment will require less support of IT.
A recent survey of top IT executives by CIO magazine, found that only 22 percent allow their employees to bring their own IT equipment to work. Their hesitance largely stems from the fear that BYOD will create the need for costly security measures. But, BYOD is gaining a momentum that IT managers will be powerless to stop: Nearly half of all mobile devices being used in the workplace at the end of 2011 were employee-owned, according to International Data Corp. That means employee-owned devices are coming through the door whether or not management sanctions them.
Smart organizations recognized the phenomenon early and rather than fight it, they began wrestling with its ramifications. Kraft, Whirlpool and some divisions of IBM are among the large organizations that have established BYOD guidelines for their employees. Many of those rules overlap with those that govern any piece of electronic equipment whether it has been purchased by the company or not.
Among the most important are:
- Devices must be password protected;
- Corporate information must never be stored locally;
- Data must be backed up, frequently;
- Applications may only be downloaded from sites that have been deemed trustworthy by the IT organization;
- System updates and anti-malware must be installed when prompted;
- Equip mobile devices with applications that allow data to be erased remotely should they be stolen.
In addition, they have written guidelines specifically for BYOD. Due to the sensitivity of the information they handle, departments, like legal and human resources, are not permitted to use their own equipment. Employees who do are told that they are responsible for much of their own technical support.
Some organizations have found that they must increase storage capacity since information that had been stored locally would now be kept on corporate servers. So far, there is no hard data on the potential savings. And it may turn out that greater – and more costly - measures will have to be taken to maintain security. Even so, resistance is likely futile. That briefcase, backpack or shoulder bag is today’s Trojan Horse. Better to treat it as a friend than an enemy.
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