BYO technology: Should staff bring gadgets to work?

BYO technology: Should staff bring gadgets to work?

The odds are you and your staff already bring personal technology devices – such as iPads or smartphones – to work.

And you probably use them for work. Maybe you don’t set up your laptop at your desk, but you might do work on your iPad as you sit on the tram. Maybe you quickly check your email on a personal laptop as you get up in the morning. Maybe calendar reminders pop up on your personal smartphone.

Thanks to technology, the line between work and home is blurring. Employees at all levels, but particularly at the top, are increasingly bringing their personal technological devices to work, often with the expectation of using them professionally.

Before they’re swamped with the use of home-bought devices, companies need to decide what their policies regarding their staff’s gadgets will be. There are financial, security and productivity factors to grapple with.

Experts say the trend can’t be stopped, but some companies – and their staff – are fighting it.

In an interview in today’s Australian Financial Review, Westpac’s chief information officer Clive Whincup said he hadn’t seen staff demand for bringing their devices in.

“We are still controlling what people can use,” he told the newspaper.

But others argue that allowing workers to bring in their own technology is more productive – and almost impossible to stop.

“People bringing their own device to work is an irresistible force,” says Glenn Welby, general manager, security at Cisco.

“Usually the most senior people bring them in because they’ve been given a new toy. It makes them productive;  they can work wherever they may be.”

Other workers are also likely to bring their devices in from home, but they may be more subtle about it. A recent survey of 700 CIOs worldwide, including 100 in Australia, found 90% of CIOs were aware of their staff using personal devices in the workplace. Welby says at Cisco, the company realised it had “lost the war already” with its staff, and so decided to regulate the use of such devices. “That way, we got visibility and control,” he says.

Cisco allows staff to bring in any device they want, provided they sort out any technological issues without relying on the company’s IT staff. Welby says IT support costs decreased by 25% after the rule was implemented.

It’s clear Welby prefers a controlled but permissive approach. He describes how much more productive his devices have made him personally, adding that companies have a lot to gain by unleashing what he calls “location-agnostic” production.

But sceptical comments such as those made by Whincup are not isolated.

A research report by IDC released last month found half of Australian and New Zealand organisations intended to at least partially deploy BYO-device policies in the next 18 months, but the trend wasn’t universally welcomed.

In fact, only one in five employees supported the trend. This figure went up to two in five when organisations provided an allowance for the purchase of devices.

This might be a result of the funding of such devices. “Our research found that nine in 10 personal devices used for work are self-funded by employees,” says IDC market analyst Amy Cheah, adding that workers often felt unsupported in efforts to bring their own devices.

The data on productivity is more supportive of the practice. “Half of the employees surveyed perceive productivity improvement, with most indicating improvement in quality of work, more efficiency in completing tasks in the office and decreased downtime,” Cheah says.

From a management point of view, one of the reasons often given for not embracing workers’ personal devices is the security implications.

“If you think about the notion of IT security, we have perhaps the whole value of our companies stored in digital form,” says Welby. “What if that information fell into the wrong hands, or was stolen by a competitor? …The nature of data is that it is quite vulnerable.”

But he doesn’t think it’s an insurmountable problem. He says there are rules in all large organisations regarding which people have access to what information. These need to be enforced on devices bought from home as well as on those provided by an organisation.

Cheah says ensuring information is secure is likely to require great consideration from organisations.

“Our research found that despite having security policies set in place, many employees remain ignorant or rebellious of these policies,” she says, adding the solution often consists of both staff training and technological fixes.

Technology companies such as Cisco are likely to be among the first to have tech-savvy employees demanding home-bought devices be welcome at work. But Welby says younger generations will increasingly expect this from their employers.

“The younger generation are just doing this anyway,” he says. “If we don’t give people the ability to use the devices they want, we’re no longer a next-generation employer.”

“For us, it’s unstoppable because the people we want to employ now demand it.”

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