It wasn't long ago when employees knew exactly which tools they would be using to get their work done. Their information technology department gave them the standard-issue BlackBerry, workstation password and perhaps a dedicated laptop, and then sent them off to work.
Those days are almost over. Now that smartphones have become a necessity for more people and tablet computers are flying off store shelves, it's becoming more possible for businesses to adopt a "bring your own device" policy for their IT needs. Meaning, instead of supplying the technology themselves, businesses allow workers to use their personal devices to interact with the company's network and data.
But the benefits of having a BYOD policy can come with challenges. While businesses can save thousands of dollars on equipment purchases, and employees enjoy working on the devices they prefer, the transition can create a migraine-sized headache for IT departments. A study by Mountainview, Calif.-based security software maker Symantec Corp. found that 78 percent of business owners believe permitting employees to use the smartphone of their choice either has no impact on or only somewhat decreases the overall security of their company's networks and information. This isn't the case. Companies must address some serious concerns before making the switch.
Like many technology decisions, going through the BYOD transition opens up all sorts of network security issues. Each employee device must be checked to ensure that it has proper virus protection and can handle any other potential security issues, especially if the company's network contains sensitive data. This can involve constant software updates, which are difficult to track over a variety of machines. Fail-safes should also be put into place to wipe the data from the device in the event that it is lost or stolen. For businesses that don't have a dedicated IT staff, it can be a logistical nightmare.
That doesn't mean a small business shouldn't consider a BYOD office policy. Under the right conditions, it can be one of the best decisions you can make. If you're considering making the switch to a BYOD infrastructure, here are five questions you should ask yourself:
1. Are my employees tech-savvy?
If so, you're a prime candidate for the BYOD switch. Such workers typically will have reliable equipment and will understand how to update and maintain it from a security standpoint. This makes the transition much easier.
2. How sensitive is my company data?
Some businesses can't afford even one slip-up when it comes to proprietary data. A legal, financial or medical office, for instance, might be wary of adopting a BYOD policy. If one instance of stolen client data could result in serious consequences, having employees on a variety of different tools is probably too big a gamble.
3. How many employees should be able to choose their devices?
If only a few employees are interested in using their own devices, the switch to a BYOD workplace may not be worth it. Those workers might not be happy with the decision, but if you won't see much benefit, why open yourself up to the risks?
Related: Ways to Back Up Your Smartphone
4. How quickly is my business growing?
If your company is expanding fast, the benefits from a BYOD policy could be huge. It reduces the potential technology costs for new hires and can make remote work situations more feasible, reducing the number of on-site workers and opening up office space.
5. Can I trust my staff to stay focused?
We've all seen Web surfing and other tech-related time wasting in the office. When employees can use their own gadgets with their own apps and games, it might not a stretch to expect they would be even more distracted. If your particular staff has a hard time staying on task, giving them access to their personal devices might be counterproductive.
Depending on your answers to these questions, you might want to seriously consider a switch to a BYOD policy. Just be aware of the inherent risks and stay focused on security.