Only a few years ago, employers provided desktop and laptop computers that were typically the most advanced tools employees could find. Not anymore. Today’s consumer devices are often more powerful and versatile than what many businesses are able to afford.
Among them is Apple’s iPhone 5. Five million of these were snapped up in the first three days of sales, an indication of what corporate IT teams may face in months to come as more employees bring this and other preferred mobile devices into the workplace.
It’s all part of a new trend – Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) – whereby employees simply assume their organizations will support whatever device they want to use on the job. This fits nicely with the new lifestyle where work and personal activities increasingly overlap.
In recognition of this trend, Cisco, for example, now offers WebEx mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Blackberry devices. This allows employees to use their favorite device to collaborate from wherever they are over a wireless or cellular connection. In fact, there is a booming industry for mobile apps with 6,000 now available for the iPhone alone.
Smart companies are trying to accommodate their employees, realizing that they are empowering them to achieve better results. All companies have to do is figure out how to support them, while addressing security and privacy challenges.
These concerns can be alleviated by promulgating a minimum security baseline that any device must meet before it is allowed onto the corporate network. And there needs to be a way to identify each device connecting to the network and authenticate both the device and the person using it.
Effectively protecting business data may include implementing a secure partition on the personal device, which acts as a container for corporate data that can be tightly controlled. Control can also be achieved by employing a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure that allows users to access and manipulate data on a corporate sever without being able to store any of it on the mobile device.
This kind of control comes in handy when a device is lost or stolen. The IT team can quickly cancel access to corporate resources and even erase data and applications on the device the next time it is turned on, similar to the way Amazon recalled digital copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from Kindle users in July 2009.
Things will go smoother if companies issue guidelines governing the use of personal devices for work related activities. For their part, employees will want to know in advance if their voice, text and browsing activities will be monitored. Likewise for stored emails, images and video, as well as GPS and geolocation information. The policy should also be clear about what events will trigger device wiping.
In the new “virtual” workplace, security and privacy are shared concerns among employers and employees. Problem-free BYOD requires that both parties know the rules.