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Weigh the benefits, risks of going mobile in the enterprise

Smartphone and tablet use in the enterprise can help boost productivity, improve employee satisfaction and lower costs. However, it is also fraught with risk. Expert Lisa Phifer discusses the risks and rewards of going mobile in the enterprise.

Advances in smartphone and tablet technology, ubiquitous high-speed wireless connectivity and cloud computing are driving businesses to fully embrace mobility.

In a recent Aberdeen Group study, 77% of enterprise respondents revealed that they had already launched mobility initiatives in response to pressure from executives seeking increased productivity.

Mobile devices and the increasingly powerful applications they run are rapidly transforming the way the world conducts business by improving operating efficiency, accelerating decision-making, deepening customer engagement and streamlining workflows. Employers are finding the benefits of mobile in the enterprise nearly irresistible, with roughly four out of five now flocking to the Apple iPad, Apple iPhone or Google Android smartphone as a strategic development platform.

However, mobility also introduces administrative and security challenges that must be overcome to achieve these benefits. As the number of smartphones and tablets used for business skyrockets in volume and complexity, IT departments are struggling to find more efficient and effective enterprise mobility management strategies, tools and processes.

In the Aberdeen Group's study, respondents reported considering the use of an enterprise mobility management product to ensure that every device with enterprise access complies with corporate standards, to support a more heterogeneous mix of mobile device platforms, and to assert IT control over mobile business applications. While these goals are familiar, the tools and processes used to accomplish them are evolving -- along with the network, device and application ecosystems that they support.

To calm these fears, IT must find highly scalable, cost-effective and reliable ways to enable, provision, secure, monitor and eventually decommission a diverse array of consumer-grade devices.

Specifically, employers can no longer meet enterprise mobility goals through IT procurement of standardized, locked-down smartphones. Instead, management tools and processes must adapt from yesterday's top-down, IT-driven world to today's bottom-up, user-driven universe, where mobility is not a privilege enjoyed by a select few, but rather a business necessity for nearly everyone.

Fostering this transformation is a tidal wave of bring your own devices (BYODs), designed for and sold to individual consumers. According to Gartner Inc.'s latest CIO survey, 38% of employers expect to stop issuing corporate-owned devices by 2016. The firm predicts that 1.2 billion smartphones and tablets will be purchased by individual employees for work use in 2013 alone. By 2016, two-thirds of mobile workers will own their own smartphone, and 53 million will also own a tablet.

Employers are flocking to BYODs to improve employee satisfaction, mobility and productivity. However, according to a 2013 survey of 1,600 LinkedIn information security community members, many employers fear that doing so will lead to company data loss (75%), unauthorized access to company data and systems (65%), mobile malware infection (47%) and lost or stolen devices (45%).

To calm the fears associated with mobile in the enterprise, IT must find highly scalable, cost-effective and reliable ways to enable, provision, secure, monitor and eventually decommission a diverse array of consumer-grade devices. Moreover, these tasks must be accomplished while balancing risk management and business utility against privacy and personal use.

About the author:
Lisa Phifer owns and is president of Core Competence Inc., a consulting firm specializing in leading-edge network technology. She has been involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of networking and security products for over 25 years. She has advised companies large and small regarding needs, product assessment and the use of emerging technologies and best practices.

Next Steps

Want to learn more about conquering BYOD mobile security risks? Read this mobile device protection guide and this guide on consumer device management.

This was last published in October 2014

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What are your organization's top BYOD fears? Will MDM help overcome them?
I’m not sure if it’s due to the fact that mobile device use for business is still fairly isolated, we’ve just been lucky, or a combination of the two, but data loss and unauthorized access to systems is not as much of a concern as one might think where I work. Perhaps this is because, as a media company, so much of our data is already out there in different formats in the public domain, and mobile devices are a large part of how we interact with the people that consume our content. I think our concerns will change, however, as mobile devices become more prevalent in the back-office world, working with less forward-facing data, such as financial and strategic information.
As the article points out, there are many risks associated with incorporating mobile devices into the enterprise technology stack. There are also many risks associated with not incorporating mobile devices into the enterprise technology stack. The article references the fact that mobility is no longer a privilege for a select few, but rather a necessity for nearly everyone. There’s also the risk of employees using so-called “shadow IT” to get what they want, which can significantly increase the risks of company data loss, unauthorized access to company data and systems, and mobile malware infection. Then there is the risk associated with adopting mobile devices too late and being forced to play catch up with your mobile device management strategies.