It is a good question. After all smartphones and tablets are just variations on the desktop, laptop or netbook theme. So if employees are allowed to use their own PCs to connect and do work, why should they not be allowed to connect their smartphone for the same purpose? Requests to connect smartphones or tablets are just another manifestation of the shift towards end-users bringing technology to IT instead of the other way around.
The Case For And Against
There are many benefits to allowing personally owned devices into the enterprise, including increased productivity, increased employee satisfaction, and reduced provisioning costs since employees bear the expense of buying the phone and paying the monthly charges.
But it is not without its drawbacks. What control does the company have over the device? When the company owned it, there was no question. But if the employee owns it, what rights does the company have to protect its interests?
There is also the potential for a rapid proliferation of devices that requires user support as the technology develops. For example, while the iPhone has dominated the smartphone market since its introduction, Android smartphones exceeded iPhones in the total number of units sold by the fourth quarter of 2010. This development means that IT departments will have to support more than one flavor of Android as well as several different models, versions, brands and varieties of smartphones from several manufacturers.
Moreover, will the cost savings for the enterprise be as substantial as is often claimed? Those cost savings can disappear rapidly. Employees may expect reimbursement for their voice or data plans based on their percentage of business usage. If the business does agree to some form of reimbursement, will it reimburse an employee who racks up hundreds of dollars in roaming charges because he or she forgot to turn off data roaming when traveling to Europe on business? How much support will employees expect? How much will be provided? And what will that cost? These and other costs can rapidly eat up the purported cost savings for the enterprise.
Letting Personally Owned Smartphones Into The Enterprise
There are ways to address these issues. One of the most important first steps an organization must take is to establish clear limits on smartphone use for business purposes. Having a good, well-communicated set of policies for personally owned smartphones and tablets is essential. The policy should address:
- The scope of rights the organization reserves to control the device
- Who has the authority to approve the devices that will be allowed to connect and what criteria must be met for approval
- What type of user support will be provided – no support; best effort to a degree; or unlimited support
- Minimum security requirements such as passwords, lockout, encryption, and remote wipe capabilities
- What personal costs the company will reimburse and any limits that may apply
Technical solutions such as Mobile Device Management solutions can help. If automated solutions to manage enterprise desktops and laptops are already in place, it may be feasible to extend them to manage personally owned smartphones.
Employee awareness is another critical element for success. A clear understanding of the company's policies and limits will help to avoid many issues before they occur. Safe and proper usage will serve the same goal. In the example of data roaming while abroad, fostering employee awareness of the problem and how to prevent it in the first place will support greater success.
Laptops require different security behavior than desktops, and smartphones and tablets are no exception to the rule. "Remote wipe" is a useful capability, but it is worthless if the phone is turned off and the SIM card has been removed. So it is vital that employees understand that critical information on the enterprise network should never be accessed by their smartphone nor stored on their device.
It Can Be Done
These issues are hardly novel. They are simply variations on challenges you have been successfully addressing for years. Think back to the first laptop computer you provisioned for a road warrior or when you first allowed employees to connect to the enterprise network from home. That worked out fine, and with proper preparation personally owned smartphones and tablets can be equally successful.
So when your employees ask to use their smartphone or tablet for work, you can answer, “Why not?”
Written By: John Millican, April 2011 John is a Principal with the Office of the CIO Professional Services