The “consumerization of IT,” as tech types have taken to calling the influx of employee-owned devices into the workplace, isn’t so much a nifty idea as a sea change.
In the not-so-distant days of the 2000s, employers handed nifty BlackBerrys to employees, which followed them home, and, like little Trojan horses, unleashed work around the dinner table.
Now that the most appealing phones are to be found at the mall, consumer phones are showing up unbidden at the office. It’s up to businesses, large and small, to make the best of it.
Here are 10 steps for companies to follow to make the “bring your own devices” – or BYOD – phenomenon work:
Like it or not, it’s the status quo
Even talking about a BYOD program” implies that businesses are doing employees a favour by letting them bring their own devices to work.
That’s hardly the case: Unless businesses are going to demand that employees empty their pockets at the door and hire iPad-sniffing dogs (a rare but diligent breed), phones and tablets are going to come to work one way or the other. The question is how a business will respond – in an ad hoc manner, or with a sensible, consistent policy?
Identify your goals
Have a clear sense of what you’re trying to achieve. Do you want to please employees who are married to their gadgets? Do you want to reduce the amount you spend on purchasing gadgets?
Or do you want to increase the amount of time that employees spend working? Intel Corp., which has recently implemented a BYOD policy that’s seen tens of thousands of employee-owned phones appear in the workplace, claims that it’s seeing an extra 40 to 50 minutes a day of productivity, according to Chris Peters, an IT director at Intel who specializes in BYOD.
Recognize that BYOD isn’t one size fits all
There’s more than one way to handle BYOD. Will the company provide equipment even if a user brings his or her own device? If not, will it pay a stipend to offset costs? Or will the employee pay all costs? Pick a company-wide approach and stick to it.
Don’t fixate on devices
It’s easy to worry about supporting the different pieces of hardware that users might be toting through the door, and the respective challenges each one brings. The real challenge is managing the corporate data that flows in and out of every one of the user’s devices.
An iPad with company data might be a loss risk, but so is employees e-mailing themselves files from their work computer. Creating a culture in which employees are prudent with data in general needs to come first.
It’s harder than ever to keep data in one place, especially in an informal, small-business environment. Never mind networks and errant USB keys, cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud make it all too easy for big files to leave the office – and the country. So focus on the wetware - the squishy humans operating the devices.
Be clear on policy
Create a written policy about how data can be shared and used, and give it teeth. Make sure employees understand the many different ways that breaches can happen. Put aside time for training; consultants suggest making sure that any policy includes consequences for security breaches.
Employee privacy matters too
Device-management software can give employers a sense of security about mobile devices, letting them perform tasks such as remotely wiping gadgets if they get lost, and keeping track of what’s installed on them. But not every management feature is a productive one: If a device ceases to be substantively private, it also ceases to be personal, and the benefits of BYOD can be negated.
Tailor tools to the task
If wringing more productivity from employees’ working hours is a goal, then it’s best to make sure that there’s a practical use for them. With big business, this can mean tailoring in-house applications for small-format touch-screen devices. For small business, this could mean choosing cloud-based services that offer strong mobile interfaces, especially for touch-friendly tasks such as project management, scheduling, and customer relations management.
Remember that virtualization has its limits
Virtualization is a frequently-touted solution, wherein a mobile device (or a laptop) is used to control a computer remotely, preventing sensitive data from being stored on the user’s gadget. It’s a neat solution, but business applications are often designed for big screens, keyboards and mice, and the user’s experience is at the mercy of the mobile network the client is using.
Welcoming employee-owned gadgets means accepting a wide range of hardware and software configurations – a support headache. Rather than simply disallowing devices that aren’t officially supported, be clear on when employees need to support themselves. If your business is a Mac/PC shop and an employee wants to bring in a Linux laptop, setting it up can be done on his or her own time.
Insist employees put passcodes on all devices
You’ve already done that – right?
Special to The Globe and Mail
Join The Globe’s Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues.
Our free weekly small-business newsletter is now available. Every Friday a team of editors selects the top picks from our blog posts, features, multimedia and columnists, and delivers them to your inbox. If you have registered for The Globe's website, you can sign up here. Click on the Small Business Briefing checkbox and hit 'save changes.' If you need to register for the site, click here.