In the past 12 months, the number of mobile platforms in the workplace has doubled, according to research by analyst firm the Aberdeen Group. With the ever growing popularity of the latest smartphones - many which have the same capabilities as a desktop PC - today's workforce is becoming increasingly mobile, which can result in a number of new security concerns for ICT directors, ranging from mobile malware to the loss of confidential business information if a device is lost or stolen. Recent research by Vanson Bourne found that 92% of ICT directors thought that the number of security threats they faced had increased as more employees started using mobile devices to work remotely and access corporate networks.
Given that ICT departments have spent years getting their desktop PC environment satisfactorily secure, it is vital that they also start getting a grip on their mobile device management otherwise they risk undoing all their good work.
New devices, new threats
According to Vanson Bourne's research, social networking and mobile porn are the biggest productivity and security threats facing UK businesses and their mobile workers. The research found that 55% of ICT directors considered mobile social networking the biggest threat, followed by mobile porn (30%), mobile gaming (8%) and mobile TV (7%).
Compounding the problem is that many employees use the same device for both personal and work which limits the visibility that the ICT department has and makes enforcing mobile usage policies difficult. Unsurprisingly, nearly 63% of ICT directors said they found enforcing mobile usage policies a headache, while 88% said that they would like better visibility of their employees' mobile usage in order to better manage costs and improve mobile security.
One of the main problems is that the management of mobile devices is often left in the hands of the end user rather than the ICT department. For instance, if a mobile device requires its software updating the onus is on the end user to send it back to the ICT department or update the device themselves online, which means upgrade cycles are inconsistent at best. This often results in businesses having to manage many different devices running different software versions all of which offering differing levels of protection. In fact, 82% of ICT directors who believed that such inconsistent upgrade cycles were leading to increased mobile security and performance concerns. According to the Aberdeen Group, a single security lapse could cost an organisation up to $2m [£1,28m].
Small steps, big results
In order to be in a position to address such security and performance concerns, ICT needs to be involved right at the start when it comes to procuring mobile devices. All too often, purchasing is left solely to procurement or carried out on a departmental level which means that devices are chosen based on cost, rather than ease of management. Consequently, 81% of ICT directors said that they found it difficult to manage and secure mobile devices when they were not purchased through or specified by the ICT department.
However, by altering purchasing habits the ICT department can start to get a much better handle on mobile device management (MDM) and start to take advantage of the latest MDM solutions, which provide "over the air" updates, data encryption and remote data wiping as key features. This can provide the ICT department with far greater visibility and control over their mobile devices from provisioning right through to decommissioning. By leveraging mobile management software, organisations can also start reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO) per mobile employee in a company. Figures show that organisations using MDM have a TCO which is 23% lower than at those not using it.
By having greater visibility, ICT will now be able to provide a greater level of user support because it will know exactly what software and applications are on each device and monitor/manage them remotely. Equally, considering the increasing amounts of personal and business data held on today's devices being able to decommission them in a more secure manner, will give ICT departments, and the business overall, greater peace of mind.
Putting your foot down
The capabilities of smartphones and other mobile devices are only going continue to grow over time. Therefore, it is important that ICT departments take control now. Without proper provisioning and having an effective mobile device management strategy in place organisations will incur increased support costs and risk losing the visibility and security they had created in the fixed desktop environment. MDM does not only save significant amounts of money, but it can also serve as an insurance policy for problems such as data loss and data recovery.
Alex Donnelly is portfolio manager at Damovo UK