Tech & Communications

The IT challenge: Personal devices in the workplace

by  — 26 December 2013

The bring-your-own-device to work (BYOD) culture has been a growing concern for IT departments within organisations for a few years now. A recent study by Cisco on ICT security in the Middle East revealed that as much as 65 percent of employees are putting their firms at risk by not understanding the security implications of using personal devices to access corporate data.

See Infographic on corporate policies vs personal devices

The pervasiveness of mobile devices in the workplace is widespread. Earlier in the year, it was estimated by IDG Services that over a billion devices would be in use by the end of this year in workplaces around the world, a 15-fold increase from 2009. Generally, high smartphone and mobile device penetration in Qatar is forcing companies to implement policies and technologies that will allow for the use of personal devices but still hold some control over the security of corporate data. 

Allen Mitchell, senior technical account manager, MENA, at CommVault Systems, a data management company, said mobile workers in Qatar are now transforming the modern working environment. Mobile technologies not only bring flexibility into their working day but improve productivity levels overall, he added.

“The challenge for the IT department, therefore, lies in its ability to protect the increasing amounts of data that is created by users outside of the enterprise whilst still meeting the demand for a mobile lifestyle,” said Mitchell. A global survey by network security company Fortinet conducted in October among Generation Y employees – 20– to 29-year olds – showed that 45 percent found a BYOD policy empowering, but 51 percent said they would contravene any policy on banning the use of personal devices at work or for work purposes. Telecom companies have seen the potential opportunities to offer services around the increase of mobile device usage in workplaces. Most recently, Vodafone Qatar announced that it would be offering a Secure Device Management service to help businesses better protect their company data.

The system will enable IT departments to remotely manage all smartphones and tablets within their network through a web console. If a personal mobile device of an employee is lost, it can be remotely locked and wiped if stolen. The GPS locator on a mobile device can also be used to track any device. Vodafone’s security platform also has a feature that encrypts emails sent between the device and the corporate network for added protection of confidential company information. “The challenge for the IT manager is how to manage these devices and protect the corporate network and corporate data, particularly when the devices may be different, use different operating systems and may not even belong to the company,” stated Vodafone Qatar. Vodafone Qatar confirmed to The Edge that the service would be able to manage devices provided both by the company and those owned by the employee. It will also be able to manage devices not subscribed to the Vodafone network, revealed the statement. 

Emerging trends

The Fortinet global study, which focused on the opinions of younger employees, showed the widespread use of cloud services for storing sensitive corporate data as an emerging threat to organisational security. The report stated that 70 percent of those surveyed used cloud accounts for work purposes, with 12 percent saying they used it to store passwords; 33 percent said they stored customer data and perhaps most worryingly, 14 percent said they would not tell employers if a personal device used for work purposes had been compromised.

Other possible future trends hinted at in the study include the introduction of wearable technology in the workplace such as smart watches or the much-talked-about Google Glass. However, it is yet to be seen if such devices will become the next challenge for organisations to manage.

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