Published on:

2 February 2016


Rachael Adams

Bringing in Change: How consumer devices are changing business tech

In many ways, it used to be much simpler. Employees would use the desktops provided for them, at their assigned desks, during business hours. Their technology experience was contained and controlled by the IT department. While those machines were far less intuitive than today’s more user-friendly devices, they were limited in range.

Before we get carried away with thoughts of the good old days we should remember the downsides. Systems were harder to learn and less user-friendly, meaning endless support demands. And when someone was out of the office, they really were unavailable.

While there has been a gradual shift towards more mobile work practices, it is over the last few years that mobility has really seen the greatest changes. An increasingly tech-savvy workforce, flexible work practices, and the emergence of smartphones, iPads and tablets have all fed the growing trend.

The case for BYOD

For many reasons, bring your own device (BYOD) makes a lot of sense. As anyone who has changed their phone recently will know, getting to grips with the unfamiliar can be a royal pain. Switching between Android and iOS doubly so. With BYOD, people get to use the phones, tablets and other devices that they are familiar and comfortable with, which means they are more likely to be largely self-sufficient.

This familiarity may sound simple, but if you’re tempted to think of it as no big deal, try switching to an unfamiliar machine next time you’re on a deadline and see how annoying it is. According to a Cisco survey, BYOD makes a measurable difference to completion of tasks, and raises staff satisfaction. Still not convinced? Studies by DePaul University show that employee satisfaction has a direct influence on company performance and profitability.

BYOD is not just a matter of the sales team wanting an excuse to show off the shiny gadgets they paid for with their last commission cheques. Often, staff are using the latest technology at home, only to come to work and log on with a five year old PC that feels decidedly dated. People are more and more willing to invest in technology in their own lives, so frustration builds if there are not workplace budgets to match.

Changes in work practices are also influential. How many people in your organisation now arrive at nine am, clock off at five and never perform work tasks outside the office? How many of your sales team would be happy to drive back to the office or make a phone call to check stock levels when their customer pulls out the cheque book? We work longer hours, from more locations, in a world where the pace of business accelerates by the day. Realistically, having the right mobile device may be a matter of business survival, especially in a country as vast as Australia.

The fine line between flexibility and chaos

Of course, as with any such transforming trend, it is wise to explore the potential pitfalls. One of the more immediate is the challenge of supporting users with a vast array of devices, many of which the IT team may not have encountered before. There may be little knowledge about the device or applications, meaning endless hours of support time spent trying to resolve compatibility issues.

The support challenges pale in comparison to the issue of security. Introducing BYOD doesn’t have to be a security nightmare, but without the right environment and processes, the risks increase. The media stories of two British Secret Service laptops, containing sensitive terrorism information, left on public transport in the space of a few months, are enough to make any IT professional pause for thought. Aside from securing what devices access your own environment, you now have responsibility for company information that is stored on devices outside your direct control.

Some of the questions that must be answered fully in any BYOD plan are: what happens if a device holding company information is lost? What happens if a device contracts a virus that is introduced to the corporate environment? Who is ultimately responsible if that virus occurs during home or during work time, and how can you differentiate? And who, aside from the employee, may have access to a device?

While we’re on the subject, it is worth mentioning that employees are bringing more than just devices to the workplace. BYO software is becoming an accepted part of the workplace, with cloud applications such as Dropbox easily installed without IT intervention. Corporate data files can be conveniently shared around the world in moments, something that alarms IT professionals as much as it delights users.

Finding a balance

A couple of years ago, the question for IT leaders was whether or not to allow BYOD. For most, BYOD is now a foregone conclusion, and the question has become, how do I best manage and secure my environment in a changed user landscape? The productivity gains are worth the effort.

IT leaders can be reassured by the efforts made by vendors. Hardware giants such as Intel are making significant changes to their products to add new levels of visibility, control and security, while software offerings from the likes of IBM and Symantec increasingly focus on securing information in a mobile-obsessed world.

The most important advice we give to organisations is to develop a very strong BYOD policy. This should draw on expert technical, legal and operational advice. No matter how well designed the software and hardware you put in place, its capability can only be fully realised as part of an overall plan that is designed with your own situation in mind. Be very clear about what you want to achieve.

That policy should include the basics, such as device integration and support, security and the responsibilities of both employer and users. It should also be specific about legal aspects, particularly in the case of a device being lost or stolen. Possibilities such as wiping all data in this situation must be weighed carefully – after all, most employees won’t be thrilled to lose their own family photos, only to find that their iPhone had simply slipped behind a sofa cushion. For this reason, make sure your technical partners have both ability and willingness to work closely with your human resources specialists.

The good old days may have been simpler, but the outlook is far more exciting. Handled right, BYOD has the power to transform our working lives and give Australian businesses a very bright future.