BYOD, an unstoppable shift

By : |July 26, 2012 0

UBANGALORE, INDIA: Over the last decade, consumer technologies have evolved dramatically with increased dynamic and personalized aspects. Contrary to expectations, the switch to consumerization has been far smoother and a lot quicker than most expected.

Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and cloud services for storing and sharing photos and social networking, have changed people’s lives for good. And, as the various personal mobile devices grow more powerful and feature-rich, most people take these devices wherever they go.

Enterprise and corporate IT has discovered that it cannot be immune to this influence — rather it is an opportunity to be embraced to drive business agility. The IT organization that has been used to complete control of assets and data, has to learn to live in an environment of managing risk, rather than having full control. 

The beginnings of the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) trend could be seen most significantly with advent of smartphones. Employees have since started expecting broad enterprise tech support for what are actually consumer-grade devices. And, given the fragmentation in today’s mobile device market, that expectation of support extends to a wide variety of different device brands and operating systems.

Initially, much of the talk was about the threat enterprise IT faces from the consequences of the ongoing ‘consumerization of IT’, specifically from the trend of BYOD.  

In a global survey titled ‘Dispelling 6 Myths of Consumerization of IT’, the results indicated a rapid shift in the acceptance of consumer technologies in the workplace and a significant level of investment in this trend by enterprises. Nine out of 10 respondents agreed that many of their employees were using their own technology at work and almost 3/4th of those surveyed agreed that managing consumer tech and personal software cloud services were key priorities for their company.

According to several industry analyst reports publicly available, the general agreement is that nearly 80 per cent of enterprises are looking to make investments in the immediate term to manage consumer technologies unleashed by the BYOD onslaught.

While a BYOD environment can bring huge benefits — flexibility and productivity gains, cost savings and potentially greater employee satisfaction — it must be managed properly to avoid any security failings. There are three kinds of essential risks that stem from accepting a BYOD environment. First, the fact that modern mobile devices have powerful computing ability and massive local and cloud storage capabilities entails a device risk.

Typically, organizations have very little control over these devices as compared to traditionally managed desktops or laptops and the potential for official data loss any time a mobile device is lost, stolen, sold or exchanged is significant. Besides, because BYOD involves the use of non-standard equipment, it goes against the commonality strategy adopted by IT departments, to achieve economies of scale in equipment purchases and support.

This can also affect budget planning crafted around predetermined replacement cycles for standard equipment.

Second, there is also lack of visibility into applications and data on the device, arising from the interaction of corporate apps and third-party mobile apps, which employees install, with official data stored on the devices or with back-end enterprise systems.

Third, there is a threat from viruses and malware which continues to increase in the mobile ecosystem, where at a minimum a user may lose control of their device, and at worst inadvertently allows a pathway into corporate data and corporate systems.

All this necessitates regulating access and controlling what happens to the data that is stored on employee devices, but not necessarily controlling the entire hardware and software stack as before. In many ways, this change is good for both the organization and the IT department, as implementing a BYOD ecosystem will shift the support burden from having to address the whole hardware/software gap to a more application-driven focus.

A corporate app store, as against a public app stores, is also a good option to help ensure access to necessary apps without creating a security loophole. An organization-wide mobile security audit — to review mobile infrastructure, devices, and apps to identify current weaknesses — would be a good first step to help guide in the creation the necessary security strategy for a BYOD environment.

Apart from the obvious risks, many organizations may be hesitant to embrace BYOD due to the sheer fact that they may not be able to control how the employee will be using the privilege, if they would end up wasting their time. A study by IDC, sought to dispel this myth. It found that personal devices in the workplace were being used mostly for accessing enterprise-delivered applications and that the top three applications are expense, CRM and ERP apps.

Businesses are going mobile, one way or another and BYOD represents an unstoppable shift.  BYOD has the potential to get employees up and running with productivity-enhancing mobile apps in a shorter timeframe, but some companies still prefer the approach of rolling out corporate devices.

Both can be appropriate, depending on the employee group and the functions that they are performing.

In conclusion, preparing an organization for BYOD and enabling smooth transition involves some critical do’s and don’ts. These will help an organization make the most of opportunities and avoid potential pitfalls.

There must be buy-in from the executive team and hence they must be clearly made to understand the benefits of BYOD. It’s always useful to find a champion for BYOD within one’s organization’s leadership.

Welcoming BYOD does not mean ignoring risk. The organization’s data needs to be protected regardless of the measures put in place by employees. BYOD solutions, mobile device management and mobile application management solutions can help ease the burden of transition and ensure features to help IT departments oversee employee-owned devices.
BYOD should not be limited only to employees who are already mobile.

One of the great advantages of a BYOD initiative is that it allows mobilization of more workers than ever before and it should not be restricted based on an employee’s level or experience, especially if an employee’s job performance can improve from mobile access.

The author is executive director, Advanced Mobility Solutions Marketing at AT&T.

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