You are all aware that mobile devices have proliferated over the past few years: smart phones, tablets, very small laptops, etc. All of these devices are constantly in use by business owners and employees all day, every day. The incorporation of these devices into our personal and professional lives has been extremely fast. The time from introduction of these devices, to wide spread usage has been extremely short. Amazingly short! I can’t remember any consumer products that have ever gone from introduction to mass acceptance in so short a time.
Anything that causes rapid changes in behavior (the use of a new technology), as we have experienced is disruptive – change is never all positive or all negative. Such is the case with mobile devices. The adoption of mobile devices has been so fast, and so positive (for most people), that the negative impacts of this technology have not even been recognized by many employers and users.
In small businesses mobile devices first entered the workplace when employees began carrying personal cell phones with them. Soon the cell phones morphed into smart phones which offered more and more computing power. Then thousands of useful apps appeared which allowed employees to improve their personal productivity. Smart phones were suddenly a “tool” for employees at work on top of their social use of them. Next came very small, powerful tablets which many professionals quickly adopted.
Suddenly, the administrative people in IT were faced with a myriad of models of phones and tablets with differing, and ever changing, operating systems (OS). The devices allowed employees to integrate with the networks and employees had come to rely upon the devices to do their work using data from the company’s files: contact lists, pricing information, confidential information, etc. Not only did the IT folks find themselves with privacy and security issues, they found themselves facing demands from employees to support their devices. They were using their personal devices for work after all!
This is when a default strategy emerged. This where companies allowed employees to use their personal devices to do their jobs. This is the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy.
But there was another group of companies who did not like this concept because of security and privacy issues. We saw companies (usually large corporations) that decided to have just corporate owned devices. With this strategy, the company bought, loaded and owned the devices. They then had much better control over what was on the devices and how they were used.
Some companies and their IT staff were not entirely happy with the Corporate Owned and BYOD strategies. So, then came the Corporate Owned, Privately Enabled (COPE) strategy. This strategy is a blend of the other two with the company buying the devices, installing software for the employees to use and generally using remote desktop software like Citrix for secure interaction with the company’s files. The employees are then allowed to buy/load their own apps and software, but they must support this software themselves.
All three strategies have their pluses and minuses. BYOD has been popular, the company is spared the costs of providing the phones and the contracted service plans. Since companies soon expected that employees would have their own phones so the company would try to accommodate them with help in integrating them into the company’s IT network. However, IT costs increased as the companies tried to accommodate all of the different operating systems and to simultaneously maintain privacy and security. In addition, employees quickly come to resent using their own service plans for business and so some companies pay allowances. Paying for employee usage reduces cost savings of course.
While the Corporate Owned strategy provides the increases privacy and security that is wanted, it is still a tricky business. Restricting usage of the devices has not been well received by employees who naturally integrate their devices into their lives. This strategy is often seen as an unproductive approach.
Overall, the COPE strategy seems to be the best win-win strategy. The company can assure that there is commonality of productivity software, can control access to data, and can provide security for the company’s network. The employees can use whatever personal apps and software they want by supporting it themselves.
Whichever strategy is used, a very clear company policy is required to assure that there are no disagreements and misunderstandings over the use of the devices. Since security from hackers and from loss of confidential information is a universal concern, the policy must be very clear as to rights and responsibilities. And, since the mobile devices are easy to lose, the company must require that there is a way to erase the device if it is lost or stolen.