Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a relatively new business approach to technology. The days of issuing employees company-owned laptop computers, cell phones and pagers are largely long gone. Instead, businesses are taking advantage of the proliferation of smartphones and tablets by scrapping their old technological plans and allowing employees to use their own devices – laptops, smartphones, tablets and USB devices – for company purposes, and giving those devices access to the company network.
While BYOD is considered an excellent way to boost productivity, it does come with drawbacks. Security issues are of greatest concern to businesses thinking about implementing BYOD policies, and the biggest deterrent for those who don’t.
Allowing employees to use their own smartphones, laptops and other devices for work purposes offers some major advantages for businesses. The first is a boost in productivity. Being able to access the company network from a smartphone at any time means employees can always be working. Being able to access the company network from a smartphone removes the limitations of a 9-to-5 workday, letting employees do work at any time. Whether it's checking email while on vacation or updating presentations on the train ride home, employees are able to get work done outside the confines of their office.
Cost considerations are another reason many businesses have embraced BYOD policies. While companies previously had to pay for the hardware, software and service contracts to use mobile devices, BYOD policies shift those burdens to the employee. The employee is the one buying the phone or tablet, and the service contracts that go with it, freeing businesses of those expenses.
Improving employee morale is another benefit of incorporating a BYOD policy. Employees are happier when they have the option of using the devices they feel most comfortable with, and can be turned off by businesses that force them to abide strictly by the IT department's preferences.
A recent report from management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company Accenture revealed that giving employees the option to use the device of their choice "not only improves productivity but also enhances the relationship between IT and employees."
BYOD policies can also help attract new employees. Since most prefer to use their own mobile devices, businesses that give them the ability to do so can hold an advantage in the hiring process over those who require all employees to use the same company-issued smartphones and laptops.
While there are many reasons for businesses to install BYOD policies, there also are reasons that businesses might want to think twice. The most pressing concerns center on security and protection of valuable data. A recent survey of IT specialists revealed that three-quarters feel allowing employees to use their own devices poses a threat to the security of their organization.
The security fears are two-fold. The first has to do with the sheer number of different users and devices being able to access the company network. By making the network open to all employees and their devices, businesses increase the risk of a network breach. By opening up their networks, employers are gambling that each employee-owned device isn't plagued with a virus or other malware that could in turn infect the network. Businesses that have BYOD policies must have extra security measures in place to ensure the network is free from potential cybercriminals.
The second concern is that giving employees access to important company files and data via their own devices increases the possibility that it could end up in the wrong hands. Once that sensitive data leaves the protected confines of the company network, it could conceivably be seen or stolen by anyone. Also, should a device become lost or stolen, all of the data it holds is open to prying eyes.
These security worries puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the IT department to support the wide variety of devices that employees are using, and ensure each one is up to expected security standards.
Companies that allow employees to use their own mobile devices need to have a well-thought-out BYOD policy that governs how they can be used. The policies are designed to protect the company from numerous security concerns. Among the things every effective BYOD policy should include are:
- Devices: Spell out which specific devices and operating systems the company will support.
- Passwords: Requiring all devices to be password-protected adds additional security.
- Use: Determine which functions – email, Word documents, etc. – employees can access from their mobile devices.
- Applications: Any outside applications that cause extra security concerns should be banned.
- Reimbursement: Detail any mobile costs you might reimburse employees for.
Employers should require all employees to sign the BYOD policy upon starting with the company. In addition, employees must be alerted any time a change is made to the policy.