Bring your own device: How to manage the risks of IT consumerisation, without giving up the benefits

The ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) trend has taken root in South Africa

October 11, 2012

The ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) trend has taken root in South Africa, with workers increasingly relying on their personally-owned smartphones, tablets and computers in their day to day work rather than on devices issued to them by their companies.

This trend – known as consumerisation of IT – has brought with it tremendous opportunities, but also massive risks for companies with mobile workforces, says Alexandra Zagury, Managing Director for South & Southern Africa at Research In Motion (RIM), the company behind the BlackBerry® solution.

She says that many employees in the average enterprise are now relying on personally owned smartphones and tablet computers to carry out work tasks that range from authorising payments to signing off purchase orders and editing sensitive documents.

“Compared to the top-down nature of technology deployment in enterprises in the past, we are today seeing employees are bringing their own productivity-boosting devices and services to work with them,” says Zagury. “This trend towards consumerisation is being driven by the advent of devices such as smartphones that allow people to seamlessly access personal and work services wherever they are.”

This brings gains in productivity, efficiency and worker satisfaction, but also creates obvious compliance risks over sensitive data. Some companies might try to react to the threats and risks by locking the devices down to prevent use of unauthorised applications, websites and social networking capabilities.

But this approach is out of touch with the reality of a world where workers want the freedom to choose a device that they feel meets their needs at work and in business, says Zagury.

“Most people see the freedom to use social media, mobile Internet and a range of applications as an indisputable right,” she adds. “Companies that issue employees with business tablets or smartphones with limited functionality may push users to buy a second device of their own. This may open them up to far more risk than a carefully managed ‘bring your own device’ policy.” The danger is that once workers have their own smartphone for personal use, many will be tempted to use it for work purposes.

Some simple steps can help to lock devices down in BYOD environment. Organisations must configure the security options that most devices offer – encryption is one example – correctly to ensure the right level of protection is in place.

In addition, there needs to be a clear policy governing on what is and isn’t permitted with mobile devices that access corporate data and resources. A checklist of compliance do’s and don’ts can go a long way to instilling a sense of responsibility to staff, especially if the policies are reasonable.

A good approach to managing consumerisation risks combines both strong, secure mandates from IT departments with tools that enable responsible smartphone use,” says Zagury. “Partitioning devices is one option for companies that need to maintain compliance with data security laws. RIM’s BlackBerry® Balance™ technology is one example of a tool that offers this sort of functionality.”

Partitioning allows the IT administrator to draw a virtual line down the middle of the device, dividing the work side with encryption, secure communication software, and IT-controlled applications from the ‘personal’ element, where the user can enjoy any apps and services he or she wants to. BlackBerry Balance prevents users from, for example, copying sensitive data from a work app and pasting it into Twitter™, says Zagury.

The benefits of this approach are two-fold. Workers don’t need to buy a second, unsecured device since their ‘work’ phone allows them to do everything they want from a phone, and IT retains full control over corporate data and policies.

Another way CIOs and IT managers can leverage the benefits of consumerisation while managing its risks is by putting cross-platform mobile device management (MDM) solutions such as BlackBerry® Mobile Fusion in place. These solutions ensure that mobile employees can be productive without compromising enterprise governance and information security.

A good MDM solution will offer a single console to manage and control all devices. BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, for example, makes it easy for corporate customers to manage BlackBerry smartphones, BlackBerry® PlayBook™ tablets, and devices that use the Apple® iOS and Google® Android™ operating systems with one piece of software.

Of course, Bring Your Own Device is not the only valid smartphone and tablet tactic for the enterprise. Zagury says that many organisations will lay down strict standards for part or all of their workforces in terms of the devices they many use.

Some will go back to issuing corporate liable devices to their workforces to for the sake of simplicity of management, lower cost of ownership, and tighter security. In these environments, BlackBerry has an edge because, the management and security is unrivalled, Zagury says. The bottom-line is that companies need to look at how mobility will slot into their business strategies and then decide where company-issue or BYOD is the right path, Zagury says.