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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Consumer Devices In The Workplace - What Should IT Do About Them?

article it update consumer devices
What does a mobile employee’s workday look like when consumer devices are part of the picture? She wakes up and checks her work email on her Android smartphone. There’s a lot to follow up on, so she pulls out her personal iPad and starts making notes and editing her calendar and a few documents. When she arrives at the office, she remembers there’s a limited-release book for purchase for her Kindle, so she logs onto the company Wi-Fi network to purchase the book. On her company-issued laptop, she checks her professional Gmail account, Facebook profile, and Twitter inbox to see who’s inquired about the new product demo. After logging onto the interoffice instant messaging service, she reminds her colleague that she’s using her iPad for the product briefing this afternoon and she’s brought her new iPad dock to connect to the in-house video projector.

These are just some examples of the ways “iWorkers” are using popular devices in physical and mobile workspaces.

Employee vs. IT Expectations
In support of this mobile transition, the results from Cisco’s “Connected World Report” reveal that 60% of employees believe they don’t need to be in the office to be productive or efficient; 66% want work flexibility in general. The Cisco report calls a business making this transition a “New Borderless Organization,” a place in which anyone (employee, partner, or costumer) can stay connected to anything (person-to-person, person to-device, or device-to-device) at any time (instant access, instant response) or any place (at work, at home, or when traveling).

Kate Blatt, spokeswoman for enterprise mobility company iPass, says, “Mobile employees move easily between work and personal tasks on their mobile device. Whether checking a status update on LinkedIn, sending an email, or browsing the Web. They expect to be able to check in and connect anywhere, at any time, at their own convenience. Even during vacation they want to stay connected with work.

Even though the consumerization of IT makes it easier for end users to seamlessly blend work and personal tasks, 45% of IT professionals report they are unprepared or struggling to handle the influx of primarily mobile devices and their “always connected” status.

Balancing Expectations With Reality
What exists in the current device climate is a disconnect between what employees want to do with various consumer devices or applications and the vigilance of IT departments to securely manage hundreds of tablets, ebooks, and various wireless devices. Beyond using devices to access the company network, awareness must be turned toward the security of company data stored on these devices.

Blake McConnell, senior director of SMB Security Solutions at Symantec, says it’s not just about the device anymore, but rather it is more about the information that resides on the device and the person using it.

He adds, “The IT department must make complete protection their priority. From security to backup and recovery, IT must completely protect each person in order to protect the company and its data as a whole.”

Some of the more obvious threats to the corporate network and sensitive data include virus infections from connected devices; leakage of company secrets when a device is lost or stolen; and disclosure of confidential company information from the inside, whether purposely or inadvertently, via email, instant messaging, blogging, social networks, VoIP, and other modes of electronic communication

Blatt says, “When employees use personal devices for work, they often unknowingly open their companies’ business data to certain risks. Considering that an estimated 70% of corporate data now lies on mobile devices (which IT may not be aware of), this introduces a significant amount of risk to enterprises.”

But what is a workable solution to protecting sensitive information within the enterprise aside from restricting almost all employee devices and applications? While bans might be the knee-jerk reactions for more conservative companies, sooner or later company executives will need to implement a consumer device security policy enforced by IT.

Chris Kozup, mobility marketing director for Cisco, says the decision to either remain conservative— to say “no” to permitting devices—or jumping on the iWorker bandwagon comes down to risk versus reward. “On the one hand,” he says, “the idea of mobility and consumerization of IT does present a risk to the business. Increasingly there is a significant opportunity for business in terms of embracing these tools. Ultimately we’re starting to get to the point . . . where the reward is outweighing the risk.”

And, now that app store use is as commonplace as picking something up in a convenience store, employees have easy access to productivity software, whether or not it’s required for the job. “The value of the iPhone or the iPad exists within the applications they provide,” says Kozup. “One of my customers has actually found that their users were purchasing iPads [on their own], downloading third-party apps, and using them for business purposes.”

A Privacy Policy That Works
In general, many of the analysts and experts researching consumer tech in the workplace are offering the same suggestions: Determine what devices and applications are most useful and set up a policy that is realistic for IT and practical for end users.

McConnell says that Symantec offers the following security recommendations for managing employee-owned mobile devices: Focus on protecting the information; encrypt the data on a personal device; ensure security software is up-to-date; develop and enforce strong security policies; and use caution when enabling Bluetooth connections. ▲

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