The advent of mobile technology is having a significant impact on the way businesses and organisations operate, one that cannot be underestimated. The wider use of laptops, smartphones and media tablets - supported by 3G mobile broadband services - is helping firms to break the link between a physical office presence and productive labour. Employees can use their devices to operate efficiently and effectively from almost any location, whether they are in or out of the office.
Recent years have seen sales of mobile devices soar, as businesses have recognised the advantages they offer in a professional setting. Smartphones have continued to claim market share from 'talk and text' feature phones, due to the attraction of advanced web browsers and applications to people working on the move. IDC recently reported a 42.5 per cent year-over-year growth rate for the first three months of 2012 as vendors shipped an incredible 144.9 million smartphones worldwide. A year earlier, just 101.7 million of the devices were sold, demonstrating the fast-growing nature of this market.
Similarly, analyst firm Gartner recently predicted that the media tablet segment will double in size during 2012, as more people purchase touch-screen slate computers. The firm has forecast global sales of 118.9 million in this calendar year, up from 60 million in 2011, with the arrival of Microsoft-based devices helping to drive adoption rates. Businesses recognise that mobile technology can help them obtain a competitive advantage, by working faster, longer and more flexibly. As such, many are reshaping work processes and policies to account for the arrival of mobile IT in the workplace.
How best to equip workers with mobile devices?
Businesses realise that equipping employees with laptops, smartphones and tablets may allow them to work more productively over the course of any given day or week. Time spent away from the office is no longer considered wasted, as workers can continue to perform employment tasks using handheld IT. They can access the internet, work applications, files and documents through their mobile device, with faster mobile broadband and cloud computing solutions ensuring they have access to centrally stored information. Should they be travelling on a train, be abroad on a business meeting or back home for the evening, the availability of mobile devices means employees are able to work at any time.
All employees need to work remotely or on the move is a connection to the internet and, of course, a mobile device. The major question for businesses is whether to provide mobile solutions for employees or allow them to use their own personal devices. One of the driving forces of mobile technology adoption in the workplace has been the consumerisation of IT - employees using smartphones and tablets in their leisure time and identifying a role for such devices in the workplace. So many employees already have their own mobile handsets -devices they are comfortable with and know how to use. Many workers may prefer to use these both in their personal and professional lives, rather than being forced to utilise company issues for work tasks.
From a financial point of view, bring your own device (BYOD) schemes can help companies avoid significant capital expenditure. If they have hundreds or thousands of employees to equip with a new smartphone or tablet, this can leave the company with a hefty bill. So there are clear economic advantages in allowing employees - should they wish - to bring their own handsets into work. This way, they can avoid having to carry around duplicate devices, and will not have to spend time getting to grips with unfamiliar technology imposed on them by their employer. Many employees prefer to organise both their home and working lives on the same device, for added simplicity.
Potential risks with BYOD initiatives
But if companies decide to allow employees to bring their own devices into work, they must take care to ensure the security of confidential information. The consumerisation of IT is undoubtedly creating challenges for IT departments as they bid to safeguard data and ensure integrity of their corporate networks. As explained by Rene Hendrickse, vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at iPass, businesses begin to lose control of their enterprise technology once they initiate BYOD. He said it is very difficult for firms to control how devices are used inside and outside of the office, particularly given that employees are using different models.
"[Nowadays] you hardly see a business traveller with a laptop open – they're all using tablets and smartphones," Mr Hendrickse noted. "I'm wondering, 'are these all really sponsored by the IT departments?' Probably not." He urged businesses to form clear policies on the use of personal devices in the workplace, with encryption of data one option for people accessing corporate networks on their own smartphones and tablets. This can ensure the potential losses - in terms of finance and business reputation - are limited should data inadvertently fall into the wrong hands.
Andy Brewerton, country manager for the United Kingdom and Ireland at Evault.com, said businesses embracing BYOD need to consider recoverability, in the sense that their data must be backed up. "One practicality to consider is that you've suddenly got a heterogeneous environment - it's mixed, no longer just Macs or PCs, it's a real mix of devices," he stated. "You need a technology that can effectively back up any kind of device you allow within your BYOD policy. Because it's mobile, that technology shouldn't necessarily have to rely on you being inside the corporate network."
Do the pros outweigh the cons?
There are potential risks associated with the use of personal mobile devices in a professional setting. Businesses need to ensure that if they allow BYOD, the required security safeguards are put in place, and employees fully understand the boundaries and buy in to the organisation's mobile culture. This is important for growth-focused businesses, as failing to take advantage of this trend may put them at a competitive disadvantage. Those firms which turn a blind eye to BYOD are likely to gobble up a significant proportion of their IT budgets on company issue mobiles that employees neither want nor need. From a people management perspective, bosses may have difficulties explaining to their workers why they need to use a business-owned smartphone or laptop, when they can work more effectively on their personal device.
If businesses focus on the advantages of BYOD, there is a compelling case for allowing employees to use their own laptops, smartphones and tablets in-house. "Enterprises want to save money, and because they're buying in volume they might buy the low-end device," noted Jon Callas, chief technology officer at Entrust. But when employees purchase mobile technology, they are buying only for themselves, and are therefore likely to purchase a higher end device. Mr Calls noted that this gives them added functionality, and potentially the ability to operate more effectively in the workplace.
Where the necessary precautions are taken, BYOD schemes can help businesses gain access to a more mobile, connected and engaged workforce. Staff members can use their smartphones and tablets to work more effectively and boost productivity rates, with the company faced with little outlay other than to tweak their security procedures to account for the use of external devices. If everybody is willing to buy into the concept, there are clear mutual benefits for employers and employees alike.
Posted by Alex Boardman