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Better planning and support can mitigate BYOD fears

March 20, 2014

Mobile devices are becoming incredibly pervasive, as people enjoy the convenience of having all of their favorite tools and contacts constantly on-hand. The corporate world has recognized the value of mobility as well, inspiring a trend toward bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. While it offers a number of advantages, permitting employees to access company information on their personal devices carries significant security and management concerns, particularly for IT support teams.

The challenge of BYOD has inspired a number of near-apocalyptic headlines. Search Google for BYOD and you'll find headlines like Forbes' "BYOD: The Most Dangerous Acronym for a Small Business" or Network World's "BYOD is fraught with legal peril, audience told." The difficulties raised by BYOD are real, but instead of shying away from the system altogether, companies can work with IT services to implement strong device policies and tools. That way, they can overcome the hurdles while enjoying the exciting benefits that mobility offers.

Why is BYOD so popular?
Although not yet an industry standard, BYOD offers a number of opportunities that are attractive to businesses and employees. Mobile devices - especially gadgets that workers are already comfortable using - hold the potential to increase productivity and facilitate more flexible working arrangements. Employees who use their devices in the office can transition seamlessly to working on the go, whether inclement weather keeps them at home or they're traveling to another city for a conference. Mobility is also great for collaboration, since workers have their full toolbox of information and applications on-hand when they meet with colleagues or clients.

Employers may also view BYOD as a way to save money on hardware. Instead of providing corporate-owned devices, they require employees to provide their own, which they're also likely to upgrade on a regular schedule. Many workers already perform business activities on their personal devices, such as checking their company email at home or editing business documents, so drawing this tendency into an actual policy with appropriate resources in place to support it both makes sense and offers greater control over corporate resources.

Security and oversight
However, it's not all roses and rainbows. BYOD carries substantial security implications because it makes managing IT networks more complicated. Instead of a few types of hardware, IT teams may have to support a great variety of devices, with multiple versions and diverse operating systems. Additionally, the increasingly blurred line between personal and corporate resources creates vulnerabilities for data protection.

At Enterprise Connect, a recent unified communications conference held in Orlando, experts explained some of the legal dangers inherent in allowing employees to use their own devices in the workplace, Network World reported. Michael Finneran, principal at dBrn Associates, cited common concerns, such as lost or stolen smartphones and the difficultly of separating out personal from corporate information when devices are purged or assessed for legal purposes. Businesses might also struggle to ensure employees implement appropriate antivirus and malware protection, which is critical for maintaining the integrity of the corporate IT network.

Strong BYOD policies and processes
Successful, secure BYOD solutions aren't impossible to achieve, but they require adequate planning and clear policies. Unfortunately, companies often lack a comprehensive, well-communicated plan to take advantage of mobility while protecting against data loss or corruption. The majority of IT leaders and professionals believe that there is room for improvement in BYOD policies at their organization, according to a recent TEKsystems survey. Forty percent were unaware of whether any BYOD policy was in place and nearly as many feared that their organizations' sensitive data was at risk.

To alleviate the security concerns that accompany BYOD, corporate leaders need to work with their IT support staff to understand the risks and plan for ways to maintain control over company resources without limiting productivity. Policies should set firm requirements for password protection, including time-out features that lock devices after a period of inactivity. In addition, companies should consider implementing tools and processes that are designed for mobile workflows. For example, some businesses use secure file sharing applications that allow workers to access information and perform activities on their own devices without removing documents from a secure environment. To prevent employees from resorting to unsafe shortcuts, businesses should provide convenient, intuitive programs. 

For BYOD to be managed well, IT teams must be able to support a greater range of devices and implement processes that specifically address mobile security. To reduce strain on tech staff, companies need to evaluate their IT help desk support and adjust staffing and training as necessary. Increasing the efficiency of IT processes and the corporate network will help IT pros focus their time more effectively and increase application performance for workers. Better communication between IT teams and other professional also facilitates better processes. In particular, educating employees about information security and best practices assists with keeping BYOD policies on track.

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