It's no secret that bringing your own device to work – colloquially known as BYOD – is on the rise, with employees increasingly preferring to work on their own familiar devices than those provided by their loving employers. A Forrester study commissioned by Cisco and released last September found that employees access a variety of work-related mobile applications on their personal smartphones and tablets, including email, calendar, web browsers and company portals.
This trend has its benefits, to be sure, but there’s also a slightly sinister side to it that has companies scrambling for solutions.
What Can We Do?
The Cisco study found that mobile security initiatives are a priority for most firms, with many expanding the pervasiveness of mobile initiatives throughout the organization. At the same time, BYOD program implementation is gaining momentum, with 46 percent of firms identifying implementation of a BYOD program as a critical or high priority in the coming year. The study noted:
Creating a comprehensive BYOD strategy requires firms to identify which mobile devices, applications, and services to support, and to provide policies and procedures to guide help-desk and customer-service support for employees. It's also critical to address security issues for networks, corporate data, customer data and mobile devices."
BYOD culture clearly has some kinks that need to be ironed out before corporations are entirely comfortable with the practice. And that's giving way to a host of new technologies that promise to make BYOD environments more secure, manageable and faster.
Responding to a Need
Take Mobile-Flex, a Celebration, Fla.-based mobile applications company that claims it has a proprietary technology that gives employees quick access to the same programs, files and data they normally access from their home-office computers. It reportedly eliminates the employer's risk of unmanaged devices, unsecured connections, loss or theft of a device, hacked or compromised systems, data breaches or employee departures.
Mobile-Flex enables employees to access their employers' applications remotely, so there is no need to write any code on the mobile device for the application to work. And no data resides on the device, so there is true security, the company claims.
But Mobile-Flex is not alone. Cisco has its own BYOD Smart Solution, which provides "a comprehensive approach to effectively design, manage and control the access" of a BYOD network. So do Dell, Citrix and a number of other leading vendors.
Last week, Bluebox Security, a mobile security startup that just emerged from stealth mode, revealed a “data-wrapping technology” that encrypts, tags and tracks data at the document level. Employees download Bluebox on their iOS or Android device, log into the app and then they can download any kind of app they want to use for work.
Caleb Sima, Bluebox co-founder and CEO, noted in a statement that the solution addresses a key issue with BYOD: Employee adoption. “The last few years has proven that the more restrictions you put in place, the more employees will work around them, undermining the very security you are trying to put in place," he said.
BYOD is firmly entrenched in global enterprise. The objective is no longer to stop it, but manage it.
So Let's Recap
Let’s go back to the beginning and look at the benefits of BYOD. First, the use of privately owned equipment facilitates an employee’s constant engagement with his or her work. If we’re always tinkering with our gizmos, and our gizmos are loaded with work or programs that allow us to access our work, then we can be sure that some extra attention will be paid to the aforementioned work.
Beyond that, there have been a number of studies that have shown the positive effects of telecommuting (or, more simply, working outside of the office) on productivity. As far back as 2009, Cisco reported that, in a survey of 2,000 employees, they found that telecommuting increased the work-life flexibility, productivity and overall satisfaction of their workers. More recently, a Gallup Poll found that people who spent a portion of their time working remotely – the poll pinpointed 12 percent of the time as optimal – were more engaged with their work than employees who worked in the office full time. This is good news as employers increasingly integrate flexible work arrangements into their business models.
Where's the Company Data?
So what has all this to do with BYOD environments? Well, if employees are increasingly trending towards the use of personal devices for work, then there’s a fair chance that they’ll be taking potentially sensitive information home with them — and to the coffee shop, the supermarket, the bathroom and a multitude of other places where that sensitive information is subject to the inherent dangers of life in a highly connected world — think theft, insecure connections and related dangers.
Then you also have to account for individual preferences in make and model, platform, etc. which can become a factor in IT consideration — like coding/app design — and which could boost the cost of accommodating employee devices.
Conversely, as report after report affirms the benefits of allowing employees to work on their own devices and in their own spaces, why would employers dissuade this behavior (looking at you, Yahoo)? As awful as improved engagement and productivity may be, corporations are looking for ways to mitigate the potential risks of adopting this burgeoning business model.
If BYOD is the future, then it promises to blur the lines of where and when work can be carried on. And as a more tech-savvy generation comes to the helm, there promises to be much innovation in the way business is carried out at all levels.
Title image by Peter Bernik (Shutterstock).