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Bring your own device or bring your own disaster?

As organisations move away from being PC centric to user-centric, with more employees able to bring their own devices into the workplace, what are the implications to the business world?

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is now part of a growing trend which encompasses Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), Bring Your Own Phone (BYOP) and Bring Your Own PC (BYOPC) initiatives. Smartphones are the most common example of a BYOD in the office, but increasingly employees are taking their own tablets, laptops and USB drives into work and using those devices to access company information and applications.

In today’s enterprise, the consumerisation of IT, the term used to describe this blending of personal and business use of technology devices, is being pushed by a younger, more mobile workforce. Those who grew up with the internet are less inclined to draw a line between corporate and personal technology. Traditionally, new technology flowed down from business to the consumer, particularly during the age of the desktop computer, nowadays the flow has reversed with the consumer market often getting technology first before it enters the workplace. Employees have good technology at home and they expect to be able to use it at work too.

It stands to reason then that this IT consumerisation could have a significant impact on corporate IT departments, who are now faced with deciding how best to protect their networks and manage technology that they did not procure. IT departments are having to play catch up and could easily refuse to embrace the BYOD idea. Richard Absalom, a senior analyst with the Ovum Consumer IT and Integrated Media Practice believes that BYOD will happen whether a company plans for it or not, “Trying to stand in the path of consumerised mobility is likely to be a damaging and futile exercise, the best thing that an enterprise can do is be aware of the benefits and understand the risks.”

There are some key advantages to operating a BYOD strategy, including cost savings as a result of a reduction in hardware spend, software licensing and device maintenance, plus productivity gains from increased employee satisfaction - employees are happier, more comfortable and often work faster with their own technology.

While BYOD sounds attractive, businesses need to consider the full implications of allowing corporate data to be accessed on personal devices that they could have little or no control over. What data can employees have access to? What security measures are in place if an employee's device is lost, stolen or compromised? Are there increased risks from threats such as hackers and viruses.

There might also be cost implications. Even though IT hardware spend can potentially be reduced with a BYOD approach, it may cost more for a company to integrate and support a diverse range of employee devices. If you are thinking about introducing BYOD into your organisation, it pays to run the numbers.

But by far the biggest risk is not having any sort of BYOD policy in place.

Whether employee-owned hardware and software are supported or not, they pose a security risk to the organisation if they connect to the corporate network or access corporate data. To minimise the risk and accommodate consumer technologies, many businesses are implementing BYOD policies that govern the management of unsupported devices. Network security is paramount. Beyond passcode-protecting employee devices, these policies might involve encrypting sensitive data and preventing local storage of corporate documents.

Some companies are investing in effective BYOD solutions that enable data and not just the device to be secured. With this approach, IT Departments need not worry about compromising security in the name of usability.

Whatever your plans, do remember to consult and consider your employees – ask how they feel before implementing any policy or system. Far better to communicate first than have to react (often at great expense) later.  

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