Hidden costs of personal devices

By Adam Gifford

Security and other issues grow as tablets and smartphones hitch rides into offices.

IT staff have to work around multiple platforms as staff want personal hardware linked into office networks. Photo / Getty Images
IT staff have to work around multiple platforms as staff want personal hardware linked into office networks. Photo / Getty Images

You've just got your shiny new iPad or Galaxy S and you want to use it for work. How is the IT department going to react?

Probably by rolling their eyes, then fossicking online for a how-to guide, because after all, you're the boss.

"The pressure is coming from executives. They are likely to have these devices, they see how they can use them and they benefit their style of working," says Ullrich Loeffler, national manager of research firm IDC.

He says BYOD (bring your own device) is very much a top-of-the-mind issue for bosses.

At the end of 2010, 13 per cent of New Zealand households reported having a smartphone or tablet. By the end of 2011 it was 44 per cent and climbing.

"There are all these devices out there and they are coming in to work," Loeffler says.

That raises hard questions about the processes to hook them into the network, security, and who pays.

"A lot of staff see what they can do in the consumer world and see they could get increased productivity so they are looking for it, but they want the company to pay," he says.

"Companies may be looking at BYOD as offering a chance for lower capital expenditure, but what we have seen through the region is there is not many cost savings - there may be increased productivity and employee satisfaction, but there are also hidden support costs in integration and management.

"It means IT shops have to be across diverse operating systems, they may need to set new policies and understand mobile information management."

What if somebody uses their own device to access company information then accidentally or deliberately wipes it? Where is the liability? Say they lose the device or quit - what happens to the copy of the marketing database?

What happens three years down the track if there's an audit or legal claim requiring the organisation to produce all communications - can people be compelled to cough up from their private device?

"It's similar to the discussions about access to the internet, such as should you give employees access to Trade Me?" Loeffler says.

It may be possible to partition such devices to separate corporate data behind extra password protection, but that may affect the user experience to the extent they stop using it or look for workarounds.

"It comes down to organisations being prepared to determine the level of risk they put up with," Loeffler says.

"There is also the impact on the network. If every employee has three devices; their pad, their phone and their desktop or laptop - that's potentially a lot of overhead, especially for wireless."

Tablets and smartphones are more about consuming information rather than creating it, so the desktop is not likely to go away.

BYOD is closely linked with cloud, the idea of making applications available anywhere from any device.

Matt Lythe from Eagle Technology, which hosts geographic information systems apps in a cloud environment at IBM's Highbrook data centre, says he's noticed a trend for users to access them on consumer devices rather than the specialised laptops or pads that geologists or lines engineers would have used in the past.

Andrew Fox, IBM New Zealand's global technology manager, says while every extra device adds to an organisation's security perimeter, many of the problems have already been solved as part of the shift to desktop virtualisation, where all data is on the network already.

"All you are doing in the device is creating a portal, which is reasonably low risk. If you crash, you just lose a window into the system."

Aaron McDonal from Gen-I has warned about the hidden costs of BYOD.

In a recent blog posting, he said while firms may think they're saving the $1000 price tag, two thirds of the cost of having a device on a network lies in providing the networks, applications and back-end support, with end-user support up to a third.

- NZ Herald

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