Strictly Business

Monday, Jan 21 2013 12:00 PM

PAUL TRENT: 'Bring Your Own Device' programs have hidden costs

BY PAUL TRENT Contributing columnist

The wrappings have hardly fallen off all the electronic devices gifted this holiday season. Retailers reported tablets and smart phones were at the top of many people's "wish lists."

And now IT staffs are being swamped by employee requests to hook up to company computer networks. This is part of a skyrocketing trend called BYOD -- bring your own device -- to work.

The benefits to companies and employees alike are obvious. Companies save money by avoiding investment in new technology. Employees enjoy the flexibility of using mobile devices of their own choice.

But the pitfalls may not be all that obvious.

Before a company implements a BYOD program, advantages and challenges must be assessed and clear, written policies must be established.

There is no "one size fits all" policy that can be applied. A BYOD policy must be developed to fit a company's specific needs. Just a few issues to consider include:

Equity -- Don't assume all employees are tech-savvy or rich enough to afford to buy their own top-of-line electronics. Will a BYOD program give unwarranted advantages to some employees? How will the "playing field" be leveled?

Overtime -- When an employee is always "connected" to a job through mobile devices, the temptation may be to work beyond normal shifts, exposing companies to labor law complaints.

Productivity -- Will a device or an app make an employee more productive, or be a "distraction?"

Support -- How much and what type of IT support will the company provide? If a device requires repair, who will do the work and pay the cost?

Device types -- What types of devices will be allowed? Will only certain brands be allowed?

Content -- What type of company information can be downloaded to a mobile device? Who owns this "intellectual property?"

Privacy -- Will the company have access to all content stored on the device? Particularly with smart phones, a wide range of personal information -- from location tracking to personal communications -- will be stored along with the company's information. Can the company demand to inspect device's contents?

Security -- What happens if a device is lost or stolen? Will employees be required to "password protect" their mobile devices? Will passwords be shared with the company? Will systems be in place that will allow the company to remotely "wipe," or completely remove content, when a device goes missing?

Termination -- What happens to company information on a mobile device if an employee is fired or resigns? Will it -- and all other information, including contacts and personal photographs -- be "remotely wiped?"

An employee's use of his or her personal technology may appear to be a money-saver for a company. But a BYOD program that is hastily or thoughtlessly implemented can have costly consequences. A BYOD policy should be developed by a company working with employees, as well as staff and consultants in several specialties, including IT, human relations, law and security.

-- Paul Trent is president of Bakersfield-based Trent Systems, an information technology consulting firm. He can be contacted through his website www.trentsystems.net. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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