Thursday, September 6, 2012
What are the issues that governments need to address in the absence of a BYOD policy?

New college graduates entering the workforce this year may have gotten their first iPhone before they started college.  They may have gotten their first email address while they were in middle school.  While students who graduated from college even five years earlier were doing research on their laptops in dorm rooms, this year's graduates could fact-check their professors during their lectures on high-speed wireless networks using devices that weigh less than a bottle of water and fit surreptitiously in a pocket or purse.

Surely, these new hires will have different expectations for the technology employers will provide and how it will be used.  Though many businesses have detailed use-policies for technology that they provide, few explicitly address the BYOD (bring your own device) activities that many employees--not just recent hires--practice.

Some private-sector organizations and government agencies restrict the Web sites that computers on their networks can visit.  Facebook, YouTube, and even personal-email sites may fit under that rubric.  The reasons for that restriction include both a productivity rationale (i.e. employees should be doing their work, not checking up on their friends' activities) as well as a concern for data security, network integrity, bandwidth issues arising from data-intensive applications, or damage to the company's reputation through the misuse of social media. 

But the conversation around employees' use of their own technology cannot be grounded in an organization's control either of connectivity technology nor of the network it uses.

With respect to connectivity, IT departments have two interrelated functions: (1) to monitor network and end-user technologies so that they can (2) help troubleshoot, repair, or replace dysfunctional technology.   However, when employees come to the office with their own smartphones or tablets, they are using both a network and a device that are outside a company's traditional scope of control.  Because of that critical difference, the tone and terms of a personal-technology use policy will be very different than the policy that governs the use of official technology.

Whether or not an organization embarks on a BYOD program, it must address four topics with specific regard to employees’ use of their own connectivity technology (including both the network and the device).  I’ll explore each of these issues in depth in following blog articles:

  • Data security: Employees may not even understand how third parties access the data on their devices, much less how to choose applications that will not compromise the security of information they store.  Policy guidelines should be tailored to individuals’ job requirements, allowing for maximum flexibility while maintaining rigorous security. 
  • Connecting personal technology to employer networks or devices: The functioning and integrity of an organization’s network and devices is an even more critical concern than the security of employees’ devices.  To maintain adequate security, it is essential to have clear and consistently-applied rules governing whether and how employees can connect to an organization’s network and devices.
  • Productivity: Reputation is not the only currency that can be squandered through online activity.  Actual currency can be lost through lost time.  It is important to tie the policies governing the use of technology to a larger discussion of productivity.
  • Acceptable online activity during work hours: Appropriately, it was a film about the founding of Facebook that popularized the line, “The internet is written in pen, not pencil.”  What employees say online, especially during business hours, may reflect on their employers, rightly or wrongly.  

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