Are Employee Devices Operating Outside Your Firewall?

In today’s global marketplace, employees are often expected to be efficient, to simply get the job done. Customer responsiveness, competitive products and services, economies of scale are all matrices corporations review to maintain their bottom line – and employees help accomplish these goals. The idea of the mobile worker is changing astronomically – it just takes a visit to Starbucks or the airport to see a myriad of laptops, tablets, and smartphones being used to realize that we are truly a mobile workforce that works anywhere, anytime.

Technology improves communication, collaboration, responsiveness

Fortunately, technology has enabled workers to meet the demands of work regardless of their location, device, or time of day. With mobile workers moving at such a fast pace, technology plays a critical role in increasing communication, collaboration, and responsiveness. A 2013 Forrester whitepaper, Mobile Workforce Adoption Trends, notes the following:

  • 29% of the workforce is anytime, anywhere workers meaning that they work from multiple locations (37%), use many apps (82%), and use multiple devices (53%)
  • 35% of workers surveyed used the consumer file-sharing service, Dropbox, solely for work while another 35% used it for work and personal files
  • 905 million tablets will be used by 2017

If you look at the trends, it highlights a potential need for organizations to step in. With such a sizable number of workers using multiple devices and apps there are a few questions that arise: are the applications company-approved? Are the mobile devices secured? Is the organization’s data protected?  Last month, a Wall Street Journal article mentioned that DropBox reportedly has over 100 million users and attributed it to a few reasons:

  • Ease of moving/sharing files across user’s multiple devices
  • Sharing files with colleagues
  • Sharing files with trusted partners and customers
External solutions, security challenges

Simply put, in the absence of internal solutions that help create desired efficiencies for employees, mobile workers are leveraging external solutions to maintain their productivity and meet the demands of work.  And this is not a new concept – employees sometimes will identify work-arounds to internal processes they find do not work or are not in place. However the challenge with such  “work-arounds” is inherently about data, data, data.  The information sent through the file sharing service is stored outside the organization’s firewall so the security risks increase significantly.  Similarly, if applications are used that are not secure, corporate network and data may be comprised. If the number of mobile workers using mobile devices continues to rise as projected, the problem only continues to proliferate.

It becomes critical for IT decision makers to assess how they can meet the needs of mobile workers to maintain productivity, so that ad-hoc solutions do not compromise their internal network and sensitive data. Balancing the need for data security with practical end-user solutions is a bridge that needs to be crossed. Some organizations are beginning to recognize they need to embrace some of the consumer-oriented solutions and as a result, have modified some consumer solutions to make them enterprise-suitable. Such actions require an end-user attitude and can provide a mutually beneficial situation for both IT and employee concerns.

In addition, solutions like mobile device management are being embraced to address the need for device management and control, however organizations should also consider critical business processes that they can mobilize to boost productivity while also securing their content. Mobile content and mobile application management solutions exist to help an organization make the transformation to a mobilized environment.

The demands of the marketplace have placed technology at the core of many businesses, and mobile workers are identifying solutions that will help them work smarter. The question becomes: will the solution be one that protects the corporate assets, or will it put it at risk? Organizations should make the decision proactively to implement solutions that continue to support the workers who are helping to meet the needs of the business.

What best practices do you think organizations can adopt to continually assess the technology needs of their mobile workforce? How should IT decision makers balance of security and end-user experience?


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