IT: Personal Devices in Business Environs

Actively managing employees' personal devices within the corporate environment falls on companies large and small. The failure to police employees, even oneself (think sole proprietor) can expose a business to legal issues and inhibit business growth, so not only do entrepreneurs have to be mindful of how they communicate with clients and vendor partners, they must put some thought into who should get access to what data, and how to comply with industry regulations.


Heads in the sand?

Jim Brown, a technologist at Paragon Development Systems, and Mindy Rowland, a partner with DeWitt Ross & Stevens, said managing personal devices is no longer avoidable because the number of devices is growing, especially in information professions. According to Unisys-IDC research, the typical consumer-information worker uses four devices and, as Forrester Research notes, 37% of information industry workers have downloaded an application for business outside of "apps" offered by the company.

"The industry calls it 'consumerization,' of information technology," Brown noted. "We've raised kids to think the world is all about them, and they want their own special device and they want their own customization. There is just an explosion in these devices, and it's a very personal thing."

According to Brown, if a sole proprietor only needs an iPhone to communicate and a laptop for content development (which is often the case), and that laptop will contain sensitive data, entrepreneurs must have some type of encryption on the device. They also must have a business continuity plan if they lose their device, and they must have a way to back up the data.

When adding employees, Rowland said employers can't take a "head-in-the-sand" approach to the policing of employees' business conduct on tech devices. "Get a policy in place, one that addresses the particulars of your business and is practical enough to actually manage," she advised.

A good approach is to make a list of what you want to allow and what you don't. Do you want your employees to have access to their work e-mail from their iPhones? (Most do.) Do you want to pay for employees' car accidents when they are checking their e-mail while driving? (Certainly not.) How about paying overtime for an employee because he or she constantly checks work e-mail after hours? (No way.) "So, a policy allowing employees to access their work e-mail from their personal devices needs to come with a few caveats, including when it's appropriate to check e-mail, and a clear message that employees are doing so on their own time and not at any direction by the company," Rowland counseled.

If you allow employees to have work e-mail on personal devices, do you check to ensure each device has a security code? "You should," Rowland advised. "The last thing you want is for an employee to lose his or her phone and, with it, all of the confidential information he or she received from a customer earlier that day." 

After determining what you're willing to enforce, the policy will start to write itself. Part of that policy formulation should be to establish consequences for allowing the conduct, and to determine how you will discipline or terminate an employee who violates the "don't allow" category.

Rowland suggests that companies issue personal devices and pay for the device and the bill. Require that all work-related calls, e-mails, or other forms of communication take place on that phone. Prohibit employees from using personal cell phones for business use, which is helpful in trying to prevent an employee from gathering customer contact information or confidential company information on his or her cell phone – information that may be used at a later date to start a competing business. Should you find yourself in litigation with an employee or customer, it's much easier to gain access to phone records, text message records, and e-mails if the information came from a company-issued cell phone.

One future consideration when adding employees: the ability to support a bring-your-own-computer model is a competitive advantage. "The younger generations tend to work differently," Brown noted, "so the ability to have a phone or device that is all about them, then some type of stipend for it, instead of trying to own the device as a corporation and forcing them to a standard, might be a competitive advantage to entice talent to join their cause."

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