At least one in five local authorities in the UK is looking into the idea of allowing staff to use their own devices at work, mainly due to demand from employees.
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Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council in the Midlands rolled out a secure bring your own device (BYOD), but found it achieved efficiency gains and cost savings in the process.
As for all organisations going this route, the main challenge for the IT team was the safeguarding information and data security while giving staff the flexibility to use their own devices.
Being a local authority dealing with sensitive information on residents, the council had to ensure that any systems it deployed adhered to the strict security requirements set by the government’s information assurance advisor CESG.
To achieve its goals without risking security, the council’s IT team developed policies for BYOD and "your own device at home" (Yodah), underpinned by two main security technologies that enable employees to access systems from a device of their choice.
For laptops and home PCs the council is using virtual private network (VPN) appliances from Juniper Networks. For smartphones and tablets, the council uses an enterprise mobile device management (MDM) system from Good Technology.
Read more about mobile device management (MDM)
As a backup for when devices fail, council employees can access the systems they need to do their work on any available machine through a Citrix system.
While VPNs are fairly established as a means of enabling secure remote access, Good Technology was the only solution open to the council for smartphones and tablets, according to Solihull Council project manager Alan Colson.
By encrypting sensitive data and keeping it in a secure container on the device, it was separated from personal data. This enabled the council to allow employees to use their device of choice, while keeping the sensitive data secure and not requiring continual authentication, he said.
Allowing the greater choice of devices led to an improvement in the ICT’s reputation in the council, said Colson.
“By empowering employees to work how and where they wanted to, on a device that suited them, the IT team went from being the department of ‘no’ to the department of ‘go’,” he said.
More than 375 council employees have already gone live with BYOD, which is nearly 15% of the organisation’s eligible workforce.
Staff continue to drive the process, with five people added to the scheme every week.
Read more about BYOD
Cutting public sector costs
In today’s economic climate of public sector cuts, the council said Yodah is also able to attain notable fiscal benefits as a result of supporting BYOD.
“People are returning council-issued phones and laptops and using their own devices instead, so there is a saving straight away,” said the council’s head of IT, Steve Halliday.
Detractors of BYOD schemes say this approach will automatically result in a spike in support costs, but Solihull Council has not encountered that problem, he said.
“We decide to adopt the approach of monitoring the situation and managing problems if they arose, but we are not seeing that,” said Halliday.
Social media support
As part of the BYOD initiative, the IT team has set up a social media site where staff can pose questions and provide answers on any issues they face, without resorting to IT support services.
“This enables a kind of ‘support your own’ approach,” said Halliday, but the roll-out has been relatively smooth and traffic has not been substantial on the site.
In addition, if devices fail, employees are able to go back to suppliers to get problems resolved.
The second saving from BYOD comes from increasing productivity. “Many users are effectively adding two hours to their work day, which is a gain of 25%,” he said.
In addition to providing choice and a richer user experience, Halliday said the initiative has also led to quicker and more efficient decision-making.
Yodah continues to be popular with employees and IT’s reputation is at an all-time high, he said.
Solihull Council has a winning approach, according to Quocirca analyst Clive Longbottom.
“It deals with a hot topic (BYOD) and also flexible working in allowing employees to work from home, and shows how an inclusive model for information security can work,” he said.