Tech Connect: Determine a strategy in BYO tech workplaces

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March 28, 2014 | 9:38 am

We are all aware that mobile devices have proliferated over the past few years. Many people use multiple devices such as smartphones, tablets, very small laptops, etc. every day.

The time from introduction of these devices to wide spread usage has been extremely short. Amazingly short!

Such is the case with mobile devices. The adoption of mobile devices has been so fast, and so positive (for most people), that the negative effects of this technology sneaked up on many employers and users.

In small businesses, mobile devices first entered the workplace when employees began carrying their own cellphones. Soon the cellphones morphed into smartphones, which offered more computing power.

Soon useful apps appeared that allowed employees to improve their productivity. Smartphones became a “tool” for employees at work.

Next came very small, powerful tablets that many professionals quickly adopted.

Suddenly the administrative people in IT were faced with demands for integration of the mobile devices into the companies’ networks. As integration offered big productivity increases, the IT folks were expected to accommodate everyone.

Not only did the IT folks have to deal with complex privacy and security issues, they found themselves facing expectations from employees to support their personal devices. The complexity of this support climbed as myriad models of phones and tablets with differing, and ever-changing, operating systems entered the workplace.

Letting employees use their own devices to do work for the company was, in effect, a default option. This is now called the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy.

But there were some companies who did not like this concept because of the security and privacy issues. We saw companies — usually large corporations — that decided to permit only company-owned devices.

With this strategy, the company purchase, load and own the devices. They then have much better control over what is on the devices and how they are used.

Some companies and their IT staff, however, were not entirely happy with the corporate-owned and BYOD strategies for various reasons. So, then came the corporate-owned, privately enabled (COPE) strategy.

This strategy is a blend of the other two with the company buying the devices, then installing and supporting office software for the employees to use. Usually these companies use remote desktop software such as Citrix for secure interaction with the company’s files.

Employees are then allowed to buy/load their own apps and software, but they must support this software themselves.

All three strategies have their pluses and minuses. BYOD has been popular as the company is spared the costs of providing the phones and the contracted service plans.

Because companies assumed employees would have their own phones to use for work, they soon were forced to accommodate the personal devices with help in integrating them into the company’s IT network.

However, IT costs increased as the companies tried to accommodate all the different operating systems and simultaneously to maintain privacy and security. In addition, employees quickly began to resent using their own service plans for business.

This led to most companies paying allowances for business use.

While the corporate owned strategy provides the increases in privacy and security that is needed, it is still a tricky business. Restricting use of the devices has not been well received by employees who by now naturally integrate their devices into their lives.

Therefore, this strategy is often seen as an unproductive approach.

Overall, the COPE strategy seems to be the win-win strategy. The company can assure that there is commonality of office software, control access to data and provide security for the company’s network. The employees can use whatever personal apps and software they want by acquiring and supporting it themselves.

Whichever strategy is adopted, a very clear company policy is required to ensure there are no disagreements or misunderstandings over the use of the devices. As security from hackers and from loss of confidential information is a universal concern, the policy must be very clear as to rights and responsibilities.

And as the mobile devices are easy to lose, the company must require there is a way to erase the device if it is lost or stolen.

None of the strategies is perfect in this still evolving mobile device world. Each company must find the solution that they are most comfortable with and then adopt better solutions as they become available.

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