Ten or 15 years ago, managing your information technology was simpler in one sense. A company decided on its computing environment -– its designated operating system, devices and software –- and that’s what employees used. Period.
But then along came the BYOD trend. BYOD, which stands for “Bring Your Own (computing) Device” to work, has swept America in the past five years. Employees got used to using technology in their personal lives – so much so that that they didn’t want to give it up when at work.
We all seem to want the flexibility to work from home and while on business travel, using devices we individually feel comfortable with. And of course we all want to use the coolest new mobile devices rather than staid company-issued laptops or desktop computers.
If your business is like ours, you’re now under pressure to allow employees to use their own smartphones, tablets and laptops for work. A study last year found that 95% of large companies surveyed allow employees to use employee-owned devices for work. It’s now become ingrained in the workplace.
The BYOD trend has benefits, to be sure. It makes for happier employees. They can be more productive while working outside the office.
BYOD Trend Challenges for Small Businesses
But the BYOD trend also poses extra challenges for businesses:
Control - One obvious thing is that it is harder to control your IT environment. With companies relying more on technology to conduct business, there’s simply more to manage to make sure everything works as seamlessly as possible. Top that off with employees using a variety of devices and operating systems … and complexity multiples.
Personal vs. Work - Then you have the morphing of personal activities with work activities when people use a single device for both. The question becomes how to partition them. How do you keep personal email separate from work email in a way that employees don’t resent, and that protects both the company and the employee?
Mobility - Your team may work from different locations, such as their homes, or they may simply do more work while out in the field or on business trips. They will be using mobile devices and that brings added challenges. Mobile security is one of them – and that can be as simple an issue as a tablet getting lost. One honeypot study found that when mobile devices where intentionally lost, in almost all cases the data was accessed, either for illicit purposes or simply to discover the owner. If a mobility-related incident resulted in losses, the average was almost $250,000.
Security - Small businesses in general face more IT security challenges than ever before. According to one study, companies with fewer than 250 employees were the focus of 31 percent of all cyber attacks last year. And with so many different devices, and so many of them being mobile devices, security concerns are multiplying.
So, What Can You Do?
A lot, actually. The most important thing is: do not turn a blind eye to BYOD devices.
Recognize that the IT environment is very different today. It calls for new policies, employee education, adoption of up-to-date best practices, and last but not least, implementing device management tools and other technology solutions designed for a BYOD environment.
Here are 5 steps to take to operate in a BYOD environment:
1 . Require Notification
The whole idea behind the BYOD trend is giving greater freedom to employees. However, there are ways to achieve a sense of freedom, without abdicating control altogether. For one thing, make it a policy that all devices have to be “registered with” or brought to the attention of your IT administrator or any outside firm that assists you with IT, so that device management solutions can be enabled. Some employers exert more control by creating a list of ”approved BYOD devices.” While this poses some restrictions on employees, at least it meets them halfway. You have to know who is using what.
2. Adopt Best Practices
For instance, require mobile devices to be secured with a password-protected screen lock when not in use. Also, require employees to notify the company immediately in the event a mobile device is lost or stolen. These and other best practices will help protect your business.
3. Create a Policy
With freedom comes responsibility. Create a written BYOD policy for employees. This could be in the form of a memo, incorporated into the employee handbook, and/or placed on the company intranet. Make employees aware of what is acceptable, and what’s not.
4. Educate Employees
Take the time to educate employees about the challenges and risks. You’ll get more cooperation if they understand the “why” behind rules. A lunch and learn session or simply bringing up the topic in staff meetings can go a long way.
5. Implement a mobile device management solution
This is probably one of the most crucial things you can do. A mobility management solution gives you a way to manage multiple devices and applications, from a central dashboard. It enables you to view the “big IT picture” and treat BYOD devices as integral points in your IT systems – not something separate or unrelated.
Look for one that offers robust security and that protects important company data. Security certainly will be at the top of the list. But you also want the ability to monitor and manage mobile devices.
Beyond that, some mobility management solutions can help you manage expenses, too, through consolidated reporting. You can manage different devices and different plans through a single dashboard.
Advanced security specifically for mobile devices, such as capabilities for remote wipe of data in the event a mobile device is lost, and data encryption, can create peace of mind.
Data archiving solutions can also add to convenience. They help you meet disaster recovery and legal archiving requirements, and further secure your IT assets.
Bottom line: there is a lot you can do to allow employees the freedom and flexibility to use devices they prefer. You don’t have to sacrifice protection of your business assets or create an unwieldy logistical situation in doing it.