Security the priority for mobile workforce

Putting in place an organisation-wide mobility strategy will rise up the IT department agenda in 2006 and this, I am afraid, will cause pain.

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Putting in place an organisation-wide mobility strategy will rise up the IT department agenda in 2006 and this, I am afraid, will cause pain.

In many large enterprises, about 20% of the workforce has a company-provided mobile device. That figure will rise during the next few years. According to research firm Forrester, CIOs in Europe and the US rate mobile workforce issues as a top five priority and CIOs worldwide expect mobile workforce issues to increase in importance.

Organisations that embrace mobility are seeing many benefits. Productivity has improved as employees can keep vital projects alive while travelling or at other sites. By supporting flexible working and aiding an individual's productivity, a mobile device contributes to their job satisfaction and helps organisations to compete in the war for talent.

The "use your own mobile and expense it" policy that has been conveniently adopted by many companies causes a serious drag on administration and often leaves employees out of pocket and unimpressed.

A company's mobility needs will change as the business grows and adapts to market forces, so flexibility is key. The first essential rule is that mobility solutions must be born out of the needs of the company and its employees.

Understand the way the organisation operates and figure out how mobility can deliver improvements. Consider each group of employees separately and ask the questions:

  • What is the job function of senior management?
  • What are the demands and challenges and how can mobility support them?
  • What are the costs and benefits of providing a mobile service?
  • What does this mean for the technology department in terms of support, deployment and asset management?
  • How and where do managers who need mobile service operate?

Manufacturers have created such attractive and intuitive devices that the cleverness of the hardware often overshadows the rationale. The association between a mobile e-mail service and Blackberry devices, for example, can skew the debate.

"We need everyone to have a Blackberry" is a different proposition to, "We need everyone to have a mobile device that can support e-mail."

For example, most of our senior executives carry Blackberrys to handle their e-mail, but the most common mobile devices at BDO Stoy Hayward are Orange 3G Mobile Office Cards as we have hundreds of professional staff working from client sites who need continual e-mail access, including attachments, and regular access to our IT infrastructure. We also use the Orange SPV C500.

The second essential lesson is to try to keep mobility simple. Do not be put off by bundle-obsessed mobile operators' sales reps who tout solutions before listening to the problem.

With the solution we used at BDO, Orange partnered with us on the strategy and roll-out to create a customised solution to meet our business needs. That way we got exactly what we needed, including a suitable fleet of manageable devices.

A portfolio of mobile devices from different manufacturers can equate to a number of different operating systems and interfaces, immediately complicating staff training and support.

It also affects the back-end of the IT system, such as the e-mail and Blackberry servers, which can start to make things become unnecessarily technical and time-consuming. There has to be a balance between a range of devices and ease of central management.

The third essential lesson is to be security-minded. Many essential benefits come from mobile-enabling the workforce, yet, as we know, security will be the main challenge for organisations operating in the foreseeable future and this should be a top priority at every level of the organisation.

Organisations should take a pragmatic, centralised and multi-layered approach to security. You have to accept that mobile devices will be more regularly lost or stolen, so the first step is to ensure that any device storing corporate data is password protected and that communication is encrypted.

Also, make sure you set up a process to deal with the devices when the inevitable happens. For example, at BDO, Orange 3G Mobile Office Cards will only work with the laptop and user they are deployed to, which increases security and asset management. Centralised remote management, such as wiping data from Blackberrys when they go missing, has already delivered benefits in the field.

Security must come first. Whether it is confidential business data or entrusted customer information that is compromised, a security breach can strike a costly and potentially fatal blow to confidence.

The increasing focus on work/life balance means that mobility is now a must-have for all IT strategies. Regardless of whether applications are fast or secure, those that cannot be accessed when and where they are needed are of little use.

Only when applications are securely available any time, any place, anywhere and on any device can the focus shift to the end-user experience - and the acceleration of business success.

Graham Knight is head of technology at accountancy firm BDOStoy Hayward

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Nice write-up, Graham. Organizations that embrace mobility are indeed seeing many benefits but you're absolutely right when you say there needs to be an emphasis on security. I was developing an app for my company called EasyData and the goal was to provide an app that is securely available any time, any place, anywhere.
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