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IT considering BYOD to bring flexibility must not forget mobile device management

Without a doubt, Bring your Own Device (BYOD) has become the IT industry’s hot topic this summer. End users are embracing it, vendors are trying to market it and IT admins are wary of it. 

It is a subject that is dividing opinion, with the security implications alone causing IT managers to wake up in a cold sweat.  

But IT pros are well aware of the benefits of a BYOD policy. It helps increase employee productivity and engagement. Quite simply, users work better and collaborate more because of the freedom to use their own devices at their own convenience.

Also, with a greater degree of personal ownership and personal finance involved, employees take the time to maintain their beloved gadgets. From a corporate perspective, there’s a clear cost savings on hardware replacements with a BYOD policy.

However, the most positive aspect of BYOD is entirely intangible. Fundamentally, BYOD allow employees to interact directly with IT in a positive sense. It reflects a proactive approach from IT departments, working with the end user rather than against them. Employees want to use the most appropriate device to help them do their job. “You’re the marketing manager? OK, use a Macbook.” “You work in sales? Make the most of your meetings, share presentations and statistics with a tablet.

But BYOD nightmares and its security concerns are never far away. Data leakage and the risk of malware are the obvious problem areas that spring to mind. Additionally, although very few people will deliberately steal corporate data, there’s always the risk of leaving a tablet, laptop, phone etc. in the back of a cab! This is why IT admins must think about a mobile device management strategy to mitigate the risk of potential data theft and make the most of BYOD’s advantages.

In the age of IT consumerisation, As users continue to embrace smartphones and tablets and expect their company’s IT to provide access to corporate information on the devices of their choice, the IT can no more ignore BYOD citing security reasons.

Organisations need to decide whether to fully embrace the BYOD ethos or restrict it ever so slightly. For example, are you going to allow android devices or just Apple? Some organisations suggest that Android’s open format makes it more susceptible to attacks, thus rendering the Google-owned platform out of bounds.  

Equally, where do organisations draw the line in terms of the management and maintenance of personally-owned devices?

One way IT can mitigate risks is by clearly defining the parameters of usage policy. They need to have a strategy around all possible scenarios — if a device breaks, does IT fix it or is it the device-owner’s responsibility? Similarly, if people have their own devices, there seems to be an increased impetus to work outside traditional hours. As a result of this, employees expect 24/7 support when they can’t log in on a Sunday afternoon. What is the IT going to do about this?

In addition, there is a reluctance from some employees around mixing “business and pleasure”. Whilst the majority of workers seem enthusiastic to embrace BYOD, it must be noted that some individuals are happy to just logon to their work device at 9am and log off at 5:30pm. In this case, it is crucial for organisations to consider who should be included in any BYOD pilot. For instance, you wouldn’t necessarily want task workers in a call centre working off iPads, but you may want your pre-sales team to have that degree of flexibility.

One thing is increasingly clear — having some type of strategy for BYOD even if it’s relatively vague initially, is essential. Simply allowing staff to use their own devices to access business information will lead to all sorts of issues. Worryingly, a recent research has revealed that two thirds of organisations in the UK do not have any BYOD strategy in place. IT must set out guidelines and expectations as well as a degree of accountability.

To achieve this, BYOD and mobile device management strategy need to go hand in hand. IT pros must see mobile device management tools as more than just a desirable add on.

IT must also understand whether BYOD is achievable, necessary and scalable. There are risks around BYOD and IT organisations need to help customers weigh up the pros and cons. BYOD is a change in mentality - not just from the user’s perspective, but also to any organisation’s IT hierarchy.

Ultimately, IT in 2012 is about promoting flexibility and BYOD helps organisations achieve that, but not without a sound device management strategy.

– By Alex Wood
Alex Wood works at Point to Point, an IT service provider in the desktop and application delivery field.

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