Allowing employees to bring their own devices to work has benefits, but it is not totally risk free, says David Hathiramani
When computers first came into the workplace, network technology was incredibly slow and computer power was very expensive. This made it difficult for more than a single person or department to have access to computer processing. If you wanted to share this computer power, it was only possible to do this by sharing the server (referred to as a mainframe) with lots of terminals. The terminals didn’t have much computer power – just enough to display the text on the screen and take keyboard inputs back to the server – so they were referred to as ‘dumb terminals’. However, in a way, this system was very secure as you only had to manage the data and security on a single server, and you didn’t have to worry about the outside world at all.
From central computing to personal computing
As computer power got cheaper, it became possible to have more than one computer per organisation. Therefore organisations went from being wholly reliant on central mainframes to being reliant on many computers that did lots of the computer processing, while still relying on a central database, email server or file server to pipe the computers the information they needed.
The system of personal computers created several IT security and data management problems. For example, if a single computer was infected with a virus, it could bring down an entire network, or maybe lots of work had been done on a single computer that wasn’t backed up and broke – losing all of it.
Although this system wasn’t perfect either, even the personal computers were under the control of central IT department, so it was still fairly easy to manage and secure.
From personal computing back to central computing
As networks became quicker, it became possible to pipe more information through them. Therefore, the terminals that we use are becoming more and more like dumb terminals again. In one of my previous articles, about cloud computing, I described how almost all of the applications that we use in A Suit That Fits are based on the internet. This means that any device with access to the internet is able to connect to our business applications.
Even in bigger corporates, a ‘central server’ model is becoming more and more appealing because of faster and more reliable networks.
A central server model for corporates has huge benefits in security and maintenance. The IT department can simply upgrade and protect a single server, rather than lots of PCs.
PCs nowadays aren’t as ‘dumb’ as they used to be, but their job is still largely the same, which is to display the information of something central on a local screen, and take inputs from it back to a server.
Spread of consumer devices
Electronics have become increasingly accessible and popular over the years. Corporates used to have access to far superior technology than consumers could afford. Therefore, your business would usually provide you with the tools you needed to do the job. When a new salesman joined and was given a laptop and Blackberry, it felt like Christmas had come early.
However, that’s all changed. In fact, consumers are now usually getting the latest technology much earlier than corporates. Each one of us has a mobile (probably a smartphone) and much of the population now owns a tablet and/or a laptop.
Perfect storm for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
The fact that business networks are all centralising again and most people now own the technology to access this central information has really made it possible for BYOD to become possible and, in many cases, preferable.
At A Suit That Fits, many of our style advisors prefer to use their own personal laptops or iPads to guide customers through the tailoring process. The spread of consumer electronics has really helped us save on computer infrastructure spend. Even our phone networks are based on standard VOIP technology, so any Android or iPhone device can become part of our business telephone network.
We love the fact that our staff often own technology that we are yet to (or maybe will never have to) invest in. It makes sense for everyone to be open to utilising this. We are well-suited to BYOD as all of our applications are based on the internet and there is very limited critical or sensitive information stored locally on devices.
However, BYOD does have risks:
1. Special access – lots of corporates have to grant special privileges or access to devices to have them operate their network. If nasty stuff is installed on a personal laptop – outside the corporate control – this could cause trouble behind the corporate firewall.
2. Mobile phone use – if you allow your staff to use their personal mobile for work reasons, then the question of who owns the phone number will cause problems when they leave. This is especially true for sales people who could well use the incoming enquiries for another business in the future.
3. Wandering data – employees who leave may also have sensitive data or business applications on their device. Unfortunately, once the employee has left with their device, it will be very difficult to get this back.
Even with the risks, allowing BYOD in a workplace can save costs and introduce cutting-edge technology earlier into enterprising businesses. At A Suit That Fits, we have found it to be incredibly helpful in trialling new ways of doing things and we will continue with this open-minded policy.