The concept of BYOD, or “Bring Your Own Device,” has gained plenty of traction as the mode du jour for budding startups. And it’s easy to see why more companies — both big and small — are willing to take the plunge: The savings involved in allowing employees to utilize their own devices for work can be staggering.
But don’t get too caught up in the savings, or you’ll expose yourself to a world of risk. What companies gain in convenience and extra cash can be lost in poor control and flimsy policy. The unknown elements that can happen with a BYOD policy have led critics to call it “Bring Your Own Disaster,” and it’s easy to see how even the best intentions can lead to a serious security breach or aggravating compatibility problems.
Thinking of switching to BYOD? Here are four things to keep in mind when crafting and enforcing your policy. It’s important to note that the preferences and cultures of each company are different, so use your own needs as a guideline to developing a BYOD system that works for you.
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1. Security is Priority
One of the most discussed and visible challenges in developing a BYOD policy is security — ensuring that your company’s IP and trade secrets are consistently protected against hacking. Because employees are taking their work devices home with them, there is an inherent risk that the computer or mobile device can link to a dangerous network or be used for phishing and hacking. There is also no way to regulate the level of information an employee can keep on his or her computer, meaning that vital information could be compromised if left in an unencrypted state. In short, a BYOD policy needs to be coupled with a stringent and universal security policy to ensure safety and peace of mind.
A good way to standardize and implement security on computers is to create a work-specific identity or profile for employees to work in while they’re on the clock. This separate profile can act as a home-base for work-specific applications and security measures and have a different administrator password to safeguard against the transfer of files or workers installing potentially hazardous software. While this step isn’t applicable for much mobile or tablet use, you should consider installing a security monitoring software such as Air Watch to amplify control and detection within a mobile device. In putting these systems in place, you can get the best of both worlds: Employees get the freedom of using their familiar device, while you can feel better about your company’s trade secrets.
Another key piece of security management is providing a safe and effective way for employees to access the Internet or share data. It goes without saying that a highly secure encrypted network, such as WPA-2 Enterprise, with standardized user access is a great way to monitor and control BYOD access. But, it also would be smart to create a pseudo-intranet via an encrypted cloud like Dropbox, which also includes a handy two-step authentication system to bolster your defenses. For mobile devices, it would be keen to invest in a VNC client such as LogMeIn so employees can have a secure way to do their business via mobile.
But, perhaps most important of all: make your employees aware of their own liability. Setting up proper written policy that underscores the seriousness of BYOD — and the employee’s potential fault in leaking data — is key to having a successful program. Ensure that measures are in place that detail protocol should an employee’s device be hacked or stolen, and make it known to them what will happen if their devices are damaged. It’s always important to prepare for the worst, and keeping a written document that outlines everything will make it much easier to deal with challenges in the future.
2. Maintain Universal Software
It can be tough to comprehend that BYOD really means BYOD. In instating a policy that allows employees to use their own computers and mobile devices, you may find that not all of your employees operate on the same OS, and with that comes some complications. For example, 95% of your company could be sending word documents through iWork in a .pages format, but an important team member on a Windows computer will remain out of the loop due to the unsupported file extension in his OS. But minor annoyances can give way to frustration in a hurry — how do you help troubleshoot a single employee’s software system when you’re completely foreign to Linux?
Much of these headaches can be taken away simply by standardizing universal software for work purposes. Thankfully, you don’t have to spend a mint in order to get your company operating on the same software. Many freemium software models are browser-based and can therefore be operated on any computer. And, pesky document sharing can be circumvented with ample use of Google Docs or, if you prefer a browser-based option, a standardized installation of Open Office. Furthermore, keep an eye out for mobile applications that are supported for both iPhone and Android, to ensure that all employees have equal access.
By making a conscious effort to standardize software and application usage, you not only prevent compatibility headaches but also unify your team. Employees will not be left out because they don’t operate on the majority system, and IT woes can be minimized because the software is designed for universality. Furthermore, the synergy will keep you in the loop, and narrow down your IT focus to just a handful of need-to-know items.
3. Want to Standardize? Incentivize.
Do you dream of an all-Apple workforce? Or, are you anxious to get your company on the much-anticipated Windows 8 platform? While enforcing a standard make, model and year of a device naturally goes against the BYOD, it can be an ideal situation for small teams to run on the same OS. It’s important to understand that while you cannot demand your employee to change their computer, you should entice them to make the decision through use of incentives.
For example, it’s not feasible to issue $1,100 MacBook Airs for every employee, but you could find it a worthwhile investment to subsidize an employee’s device to a more reasonable point of purchase or perhaps buy the device and deploy it when needed. This system could also be used to issue smartphones: Employees can buy their own and then the company can pay for cell and data service until upgrade or termination. Keep in mind that this, like all other policies, should be fully baked before implementation. Make sure you and your employees know who is responsible for the device and what will happen if termination were to occur, and set up different protocol for different use cases.
While this sounds a lot of work, it’s a tradeoff if having a singular platform is something that’s important to you. This could also give you considerably more control over your IT and move your company towards a BYOD-hybrid that could be safer and more convenient in the long run.
4. Always Keep a Failsafe
The best laid plans always have a smart exit strategy, and BYOD is no different. It’s imperative that you prepare for the absolute worst — a security breach or theft of a device — with software that will allow you to remotely wipe endangered mobile gadgets or computers. This is perhaps the most important aspect of BYOD because it is the ultimate failsafe that can keep your IP from falling into the wrong hands.
We’ve already discussed preventative security measures to ensure all BYOD devices, both computers and mobile, maintain an ample amount of security and monitoring in the event of a breach. But it’s important to consider the option of nuking of BYOD gadgets (and knowing the right time to do so) because it can make the difference in the event of a lost or stolen device. While critics have argued that wiping a device doesn’t account for computers and gadgets that have already been compromised, there’s still a peace of mind that comes with putting a wiping protocol in place. Furthermore, when coupled with an up-to-date backup system, the risk of information loss after a wipe can be minimized.
Because BYOD is still a budding trend among startups and enterprises, it’s important to put as many measures in place to control, distribute, and delete the information that flows through your company. Don’t be afraid to employ a failsafe, or you may continue to wonder what information an intruder could have found instead of cutting it off at the source.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, alejandrophotography, ymgerman