Mobile

How to prepare your IT department for a mobile workforce


This post is sponsored by SAP. As always, VentureBeat is adamant about maintaining editorial objectivity.

The days of workers showing up at 8 and leaving at 5 are going the way of the two-martini lunch. Thanks to mobile devices, employees can always be connected, and that means they can demand increased flexibility in schedules and location.

Part of this shift is allowing workers access to corporate resources via their own devices, but that’s only a small segment of the picture. Security issues, data ownership, and the cost structure of running an IT infrastructure all shift when a company makes the move to a mobile workforce.

Data security

Keeping important data from falling into the wrong hands is one of the biggest fears in a the move to mobile workers. Employees may connect from unsecured locations and need procedures to prevent accidental data leakage when working from a coffee shop or even a poorly secured home network. Devices have a greater risk of theft when they outside the confines of the company office, which means data is at also more likely to be stolen. Finally, there’s the issue of bringing devices onto the corporate network without first sanitizing them to prevent outside threats from finding a back door into the network.

These risks can be reduced through improved encryption standards. Organizations can minimize risk by requiring mobile users to connect via VPN and enforcing resource access policies. The dangers can be further reduced through improved encryption methods, like disc-level encryption that protects all data on a drive.

The use of two-factor authentication, generated through a device other than the PC where the authentication is entered, like a key fob or mobile application, helps prevent password discovery. Where appropriate, digital rights management further dictates how data is accessed and used by individuals when connecting to the corporate network.

Data ownership

The issue of exactly who owns the data becomes less clear in a mobile work force, particularly if the device used by a mobile worker is one they purchased. A good example of this is developers who work from their own device writing code for both the company and outside projects. Many employers, including Google, have rules that require all code created by someone be owned by the employer while the employment contract exists. When a worker is remote using their own device, it becomes less clear what constitutes an employees “own time.”

The solution is setting up policies ahead of time and clearly communicating the division between work and personal intellectual property with employees. As John Obeto, CEO of systems integration firm Logikworx told us recently, “companies, in conjunction with their attorneys, need to develop policies regarding the ownership of data stored on mobile devices, especially BYO devices, in order to make sure that those policies don’t run afoul of local, federal, or international laws.”

The time and money costs

In a meeting of IT decision makers at the opening day of the HP Discover 2012 conference in Las Vegas, the group discussed the coming shift to a mobile workforce. One executive was commenting on his lost productivity as a result of a failed remote synchronization of his calendar. He had to place a call to the help desk, troubleshoot the issue, and follow procedures to get the calendar back to a functional state. Time was lost for the company solving what should be a routine function, not to mention the time wasted by the executive.

One decision maker commented that the bring your own device (BYOD) trend will be a cost savings boon, because employees, not the employer would now be footing the bill for hardware. This is a common misconception since costs shift with a mobilized workforce, as illustrated by the calendar example.

“Mobile workforces who bring their own device do not translate to an automatic reduction in IT expenses,” explained Obeto.  “IT operational costs are a constant, depending on several factors. As a result, if you shift cost, such as real estate by having mobile workers or capital expenditures by instituting or allowing BYOD, your operational expenses will increase until the total sum of your operational expenses and capital expenses are back in equilibrium, at just about where you started. At that point, your gains should be greater productivity and efficiency.”

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