The Mobile Office – It’s Already Here

 They’re Everywhere

Sipping a carmel machiatto expresso in the neighborhood coffee shop, the woman sitting at a nearby table stares intently at the screen of her laptop, which displays a bright yellow graph. It is easy to spot them. At cafes, gyms, in the mountains and at the beach, employees are working on their mobile devices: tablets, smartphones, laptops, you name it. In a recent survey, over 60% of businesses in North America reported employees were using their own devices as part of a burgeoning trend, the mobile office. (Vancouver Sun) Now company work is done anytime and anywhere.
This game-changer for the modern office has IT department heads chewing Tums to quell queasy stomachs, and losing sleep at night. They do not need to be told that there was a 67% increase in computer viruses on business networks last year, apparently tied to lax security on employee-owned devices. (ibid.) Some long for a more laid-back profession these days, perhaps as a YYZ flight controller or a bomb defuser in a warzone.

There’s No Going Back

The genie will not be pushed back into the bottle any time soon. Research shows that workers who use their consumer devices for work are more productive than their colleagues who stick to more traditional workplace regimens. (Forrester Gartner) And there are other benefits to the companies that go along with the trend. According to PCWorld, when workers absorb the initial cost and maintenance of their mobile device, companies save on average $80/month per user. When the responsibility for purchasing, upgrading and replacing lost, stolen or outdated equipment falls on the employee, the business saves money.

Why Worry?

But, the bleary-eyed IT department head will complain, how do we keep our data safe? There is accounting information, payroll data, business intelligence, you name it, on our network. What happens if this data is stolen or corrupted? What if the system crashes? What then?
There’s the rub. And outside the IT department and the CIO’s office, not enough people are thinking of these potential problems. In a recent survey, only 10% of businesses have a policy pertaining to workers’ mobile devices. (Sybase Device Management_BYOD, i.zd.net.com)

What Can You Do?

There is a danger to the company if services like email or file sharing are not set up properly. Also, certain hardware and software configurations create risks for the network. Businesses need to formulate a company policy regarding BYOD (bring your own device) and employees should be educated about its contents and then be asked to sign it.
What should such a policy look like and what are the key areas it should address? First, the policy should avoid erecting barriers that discourage worker’s use of their mobile devices, provided the employees observe several key procedures. HR, the IT department and company executives should have input into the policy regarding mobile devices. It is also important to include the employees who will be asked to go along with the policy to be part of its development, in order to design a sensible policy which will not face strong resistance from employees after it is rolled out.
The company may take steps to encrypt the date that is created and/or stored on employee devices. A password should be assigned to each employee to provide at least one level of security on mobile devices that are taken out of the workplace, and secondary and tertiary levels of should also be considered for certain kinds of data. Anti-virus and anti-malware protection should be standardized across devices, and a procedure for updating these needs to be implemented.

Make an Approved Devices List

The company can make a list of approved devices and carriers, leaving plenty of room for user tastes and preferences. The policy should define permitted rate plans and rules around any allowances or expense reimbursements. Employees must also agree to report any lost or stolen devices immediately to the company, and be made aware that the device will be remotely wiped and disabled by the IT department when this happens, in order to protect company data from being stolen.
At least one telecom offers a feature that allows smartphone users to toggle back and forth between personal and business applications and data, enhancing data security. Other possible steps include adopting a MDM, or mobile device management platform, from the assortment that have become available from vendors such as Dell, Kaseya and VMware. For mid-size businesses and larger, it is good to have an app development platform that can be used to make sure that all business apps share common back-end data.

Cost!

It is also important to be aware that the costs of systems to manage and keep mobile devices secure can be expensive, as is mobile app development. For small and medium-sized companies, with or without IT staff, enlisting the support of an IT managed service company that features mobile device management best practices, ones which has had experience helping companies formulate policies around BYOD, is often of great help in maximizing security and minimizing cost. Clear Focus IT has an expert staff, who can advise your business on the best ways to secure mobile devices and who can then implement the solutions.
Companies of all sizes who encourage employees who wish to use their mobile devices while implementing limited but important safeguards, will win in this dizzying new world of constant connectivity. More than ever, skilled technology management is a must for the modern business of any size.