The falling costs of technology that enables digital cameras, GPS devices, etc., combined with rapid change in mobile technology and access networks is creating widespread disruption. Consumers are delighted to embrace the change as technology is coming out of corporate environments and into their homes. Employees, familiar and happy with their smartphones and tablets, are bringing these gadgets to office and using them to make life at work simpler. They love it because the devices converge their work and personal lives, with distinctions between the two becoming narrower each day.
Take for example corporate email. Today, it is possible to get your corporate email and your personal mail on the same device, seamlessly and without any distinction. Employees can use tablets to log in to their corporate networks over Wi-Fi and work while sharing a cup of coffee with colleagues.
For chief information officers (CIOs), this convergence of personal and work life is a boon as well as bane. While the practice helps reduce device and management costs, keeps employees happy and improves productivity, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy also poses a major challenge in the way IT support is provided and enterprise data and networks are secured. In October 2011, CTIA – The Wireless Association announced that the number of wireless subscriber connections had surpassed the population in the U.S. and its territories. In India, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said there were 683 million active wireless connections by March 2012, or slightly more than half the country’s population. A Citrix study forecast that by mid-2013, 94 per cent of the companies worldwide would have a BYOD policy.
The CIO’s desk is, expectedly, laden with brochures and folders on how to manage distributed, decentralised and mobile workforces that don’t see the difference between work and personal devices. The CIO’s office, which has for decades worked with location-specific IT systems and a very high degree of standardisation, is now faced with several platforms to manage that are, well, not even within the perimeter of the enterprise! The end-goal too has changed: it is now about providing flexibility at increasingly lowered costs. Explained below are the top three challenges before a CIO.
1. Providing support to devices that continue to be in a state of change. Devices upgrade cycles are shrinking. New models and systems arrive on store shelves each day and consumers are adopting them with glee. How is a CIO to prepare for a future that is constantly in flux?
2. Enterprise data security. When a user misplaces or loses a mobile device, it can compromise enterprise data. Does the enterprise have the legal authority to remotely lock or wipe what is in effect a personal device? How can the CIO’s office ensure that users take adequate precaution and ensure there are no threats from malware and virus attacks to the enterprise network because of end-user laxity?
3. Growing support costs. If a device malfunctions or goes down, it needs immediate attention. Given that the device is perhaps off site, in a remote location, how does the IT department define and manage the helpdesk? Should it depend entirely on the warranty opted by the owner of the device or should the enterprise take up the cost of warranty? Defining the level of support in a BYOD environment is a tricky task.
There are other technical issues around compliance requirements, application access, device monitoring and control that can be tricky when the lines between work and personal use blur. Which is why establishing a mobile usage policy along with definitions of acceptable devices and white-listed applications is getting to be increasingly important.
(The author is Director, Enterprise Sales, RIM India)