Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

A balancing act between increased productivity and security risks

Over the past two decades, thanks to modern digital and mobile communication tools and the establishment of social media, the working world has undergone radical upheavals. The fixed work space with the stigma – this is my office – has been successively extended through new models such as home office and third places in hotel lobbies, airport terminals and large train stations. Work has taken on a new dimension of a constant transfer cycle, feeding off the growing mobility of today’s knowledge nomads.

In these changing workplace scenarios an omnipresent IT plays a key role. It has to deal with “on demand” employees who work together on an ad-hoc and project basis on solutions for diverse business tasks. Particularly in the knowledge-based economy and in the services sector, the pervasive internet has generated a new flexibility. Thus traditional working structures are disbanding step by step.

Nowadays working in virtual teams, whose members often don’t even know each other personally, is no seldom occurrence. Managers are also often keen on such set ups with an eye on cultural diversity stimulating creativity. Connecting work stations, notebooks, tablets and intelligent smartphones to company networks and their server farms with established, direct client-server connections from every point across the globe form the technical foundations for permanent mobile availability. This increasingly blurs the line between private and personal life.

The global mobile communications statistics from the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) estimated the global number of subscriptions to be 6.8 billion at the end of 2012. This accounts for approximately 96% of the current world population. With this mass penetration and the availability of mobile broadband in all developed countries on the planet it quickly becomes clear that there is an unavoidable correlation between the private usage of these devices and their successive integration into professional agendas.

Drivers for companies switching to cloud computing

The personal usage of apps for everyday life support and the external storage of data in private cloud environments involved in the usage of these services are proving to be a driver for companies switching to cloud computing. A current study from CDW clearly corroborates this trend. 73% of the IT professionals questioned entered that the use of apps from the cloud had accelerated their company switching to cloud services.

The YouGov study from the United Kingdom (UK) from March 2013 shows that cloud computing also has an interesting leverage effect on “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)”. According to this representative survey business emails are already used on private devices by 55% of the survey participants. Second place in the usage intensity is the editing on work documents (37%) closely followed by access to work files (35%).

Reduce costs through cloud computing

More and more companies are trying to reduce IT costs with cloud computing. The on-demand provision of software, infrastructure and platforms out of the cloud is a possibility to transform investments in operating costs. The main motivations for companies for turning to the cloud lie in savings in software management, licence costs, IT personnel costs and costs for the operation of IT facilities (real estate costs for data centres).

At user level the easy availability of company data speaks for using the cloud. On the customer side especially it’s incredibly valuable to be able to download important key data and presentations out of the cloud quicker than the competition.

The CDW study shed light on interesting details regarding existing barriers to introducing cloud solutions. The main concern for IT professionals concerns the security of data and applications. But performance problems and technical aspects involved in the integration of cloud applications in existing well-implemented IT systems, mechanisms and processes (legacy systems) show to have a certain inhibitory impact. The often observed entanglement of cloud services with the use of private devices further intensifies the situation. And BYOD is definitely not a temporary fad but an irreversible fact that IT managers need to adapt to just as much as other management areas and executive boards.

In order to achieve the targeted productivity increases with BYOD on the one hand and to simultaneously minimise the security risks for the handling of company data, a detailed program is needed with which the most salient problem areas can be addressed. This should include the specification of what private devices are allowed, the drawing up of a strict policy governing the authorized access (at user and device level) to company data on all devices, the handling of support questions (helpdesk ticketing), the definition of ownership of data and applications, the assurance of technical possibilities for locking devices and for deleting data in case of loss and also a clear exit strategy if an employee leaves the company.

Efficient mobile device management

In order to ensure basic control functions, an efficient Mobile Device Management (MDM) and an individual Over-the-Air provision of virtual desktops and programs with corresponding access rights to files are essential. The use of “Sandboxing” for the prevention of uncontrolled codes and programs with unsecure codes being used should also belong to the fixed security mechanisms. In this context the reinforcement of awareness for BYOD-imminent security risks among employees is also of paramount importance, e.g. device usage in unsecure Wi-Fi networks.

The reality of course is a bit different. A Ponemon study in the UK showed that British data centres are very susceptible to security risks arising from BYOD. Over 60% of British companies don’t have a policy in use that governs the use of consumer devices within the working environment. Innovative organisations are already moving in a different direction. UEFA, the European football association, will be adopting its own BYOD strategy for volunteers at the European championships 2016 in France and thereby allow the volunteers to use their own private devices.

Collective European BYOD directive

A collective European directive governing BYOD would be ideal, since the permission to use private devices in the working world in Europe is fast increasing. On a global scale the speed of mobility in Europe is also the fastest.

Innovative companies could go in the direction of cost sharing in the procurement of new employee devices. Because personal satisfaction with work tools and the working environment remain strong motivational factors for dedication, loyalty and entrepreneurship. So BYOD could also mutate into a future formula for successful companies.