Should small businesses embrace bring-your-own-device?

Thursday 27 September 2012

If businesses are able to reduce the amount of 'dead time' during the working day, they have a clear opportunity to boost productivity. All too often in the past, employers have found themselves unable to work effectively at times - in particular away from the office. Lacking access to their work files, documents and programs, business leaders and employees have wasted too much valuable time contributing nothing to business output.

The emergence and wider adoption of web-enabled smartphones, tablets and laptops - supported by Wi-Fi and mobile broadband - has changed the situation. When employees are commuting, travelling to client meetings, staying in hotel rooms or moving between sites, they are still able to work. As such, people can be productive for more of the working day, providing a clear boost to the organisation.

But for many small companies, there are limited funds to invest in mobile devices. It can consume a significant chunk of the budget providing smartphones and tablets to all staff members - and in a difficult economic climate this may be entirely infeasible. Small firms need to find other ways of equipping their workforce with mobility solutions. And increasingly, bring-your-own-device schemes are being seen as an answer to the problem.

Cutting costs using consumer mobile devices

Allowing employees to bring their own consumer devices into the workplace can remove much of the capital expenditure burden faced by the company. Rather than the business being forced to spend on IT solutions, the paid workers bring in devices they have purchased out of choice. Not only do companies avoid having to invest, but they can benefit from employees using their own devices - handsets they know well and understand the functionality of. This can produce better results than supplying workers with company-issue handsets they are unfamiliar with.

Research suggests employees are increasingly keen to use their own mobile devices in the workplace, recognising the potential for such solutions to make their jobs easier. It is not even as if the company is forcing them to use mobile solutions at work - this is very much a consumer-led trend. According to a study conducted by Coalfire, 84 per cent of employees now use the same device for work and their personal life, but pertinently, Fortinet found that 54 per cent consider it their right to do so. And 47 per cent of employees surveyed by Filemaker believe their own choice of mobile solution allows them to work more productively than a company issue.

So by embracing BYOD, employers are able not only to delegate the IT investment burden to the people they are paying, but meet their demands for greater technology support. This can potentially boost productivity, making a fairly strong economic case for permitting the use of personal smartphones, tablets and other devices in the workplace. However, employers need to ensure the benefits of BYOD are sufficiently balanced against the risks. With personal devices being used on company networks, it is clear that companies' exposure to security threats may increase through BYOD.

Combatting the security risks of BYOD

Some 76 per cent of employers surveyed by Forrester Research said they feel at greater risk as a result of BYOD. As such, some organisations have been reluctant to embrace this new way of provisioning IT - even when the various benefits are accounted for. But there are steps businesses can take to mitigate the risks, providing they are proactive in terms of forming usage policies and ensuring employees embrace security best practice.

Writing for is4profit, Datacastle vice-president Phil Evans urged small businesses to implement robust endpoint security to protect the sensitive data held on employee devices. He said the best solution is for firms to have automatic, continuous backup and restore functions integrated with their endpoint security solution - ensuring protections are in place for both data losses and breaches.

"Most of the time employees will not be aware of what information on their device is actually sensitive, nor be able to fully recall what information has been lost in the event of a lost device," he stated. And in Mr Evans' view, this is where the biggest problem lies. "Start-ups trying to get their business running, all of a sudden have their customer’s details, financial details, strategic plans etc out in the wilderness with no way of finding out what was lost or how to get it back," he noted.

Clearly, employees have to be responsible with their personal devices, using password protections, encryption, anti-virus solutions and other tools to guard data. Their employers need to ensure that staff members fully appreciate the importance of keeping sensitive information under lock and key, and follow the necessary procedures to support this aim.

Conclusion

BYOD schemes have the potential to save money for small businesses, freeing up funds to be used in other areas. But if the necessary safeguards are not put in place, the use of personal devices can also increase the risks of data breaches or loss of information. Business leaders need to weigh up the pros and cons of BYOD, and also consider factors such as employee attitudes to such schemes.

As mobile technology becomes more widely used, employees expect to have the additional functionality it offers in the workplace. And this is needed in order to keep up with rival operators who are benefitting from mobile solutions. By refusing the embrace the consumerisation of IT, small companies may simply be trying to hold back the tide. If their staff want to use personal devices at work, employers may be better off welcoming the benefits and focusing their energies on reducing the risks.

Posted by Alex Boardman