Friday, 10 February 2012 12:53

BYOD boom means new attention to the 'consumerisation of IT'

By Michael Harman

The Holiday season saw happy revelers unwrap millions of new, Internet-ready mobile devices. From the latest smartphones to tablets and Ultrabooks, a new class of powerful devices has hit the market.

While holiday gifts previously stayed at home, now millions bring their Kindle Fires, Galaxy 2s, iPhone 4Ss or the newest Windows 7 phones into the office. As Australians came back from their summer breaks, IT departments probably received requests like:  I'd like my work email on this iPad, please. With that, CIOs and IT directors likely cringed, well-aware of the slate of security management issues that arise when additional devices gain access to workplace data.

What were once considered personal use devices are now expected to house work email accounts, company documents and spreadsheets. The 'Consumerisation of IT' is prevalent, and while presenting new mobility opportunities for today's employees, it has also created some serious IT headaches.

Not long ago, employees were issued a desktop computer, and maybe a printer. Hard drives stayed in one place and sensitive business intelligence always remained securely in the office. Even with the advent of mobile phones, data still stayed at work, as employees kept their own electronic devices and their work hardware separate.

The smartphone really didn't raise any alarms at first, as email accounts were typically housed on the staid and trusty Blackberry. Seen as just another rugged business tool, like your 15-year-old landline, it could be easily wiped and closely monitored by IT heads. Really, it was the iPhone that signaled a change in the game. With its easy email access, a simpler interface, greater accessibility, and immense popularity, it represented some of the first 'bring your own technology to work' devices.

The effects of new, powerful devices were magnified by cheap and widely available data plans. No longer were employees tethered to servers or company wi-fi; they had quick access to email and work documents practically anywhere. While it has allowed employees to work from all over the country, it's also made smartphones susceptible to breaches and quick downloading of personal data.

Also, the explosion of mobile devices had led to a proliferation of several popular operating systems, leaving CIOs and IT departments to deal with software that all function differently. iOS, Android, Windows, Symbian and Blackberry are all widely used. Now, being an expert on one class of devices isn't enough - IT departments need a functional knowledge of all the popular operating systems and how to work them into the enterprise.

Ultimately, the loss of control is what's most worrying to IT departments. When everything is standardised, IT heads can lever a substantial amount of influence over accessibility and security. They can specify when files can be retrieved, turn off access, and wipe phones when they're misplaced. They also can become fantastically literate on a specific piece of hardware or operating system.

But because of the enormous productivity benefits of letting employees access email and company files anywhere, it's really left to the IT department to adapt. There are already a wide variety of solutions available to help manage the additional risks that come with at-home devices. Mobile Device Management (MDM) software helps companies monitor, manage and secure mobile devices within one network, reducing support costs and limiting risk. End-point security solutions specifically secure devices against malware, intrusion and data loss, both on and off the company network. Updated remote management and data wipe software can lock access to specific data or remove it completely in case of a lost or stolen personal device. In general, as mobile devices to continue to advance, so will the technology IT departments use to manage them.

Furthermore, standardisation of certain file formats and the convergence of mobile and desktop operating systems, signified by updates to iOS and Android, will allow for smoother transitions to consumer technology. IT should weather the storm: Be wary of new devices and ensure that employees are using the devices full raft of security features.

Michael Harman is a director at Datacom, a Sydney based IT services provider

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