Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) for Small Business
by Brad Egeland
More and more businesses are allowing employees to bring their own devices (BYOD) - cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc. - to use for work. While it can be a big money saver for your company, there are some risks involved. Here's what you need to know about "BYOD" for your business.
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BYOD, or bring-your-own-device, is a growing policy trend among many small businesses. The term reflects a policy implemented by a business or workplace that allows employees to bring their own devices in from home. Be it a tablet, a smartphone, or a laptop, a business can reap all of the rewards of having access to such devices, while at the same time lowering the financial burden associated with the purchase and acquisition of such devices. It’s so prevalent in the workplace that if you don’t already have a policy in place for or against this practice, you should probably implement one yesterday. Allowing BYOD – with proper use and standards and safety precautions in place, of course - could be an ideal workplace policy for some smaller businesses, given the significant discount it would bring to overall startup costs. After all, cutting overhead costs is the main motivator for implementing such a policy.
But what are the potential drawbacks?
Security vulnerability. Implementing a policy that allows any employee to use their own personal devices could very well lead to a vulnerability in information security. Be it intentional or accidental, private information could easily be leaked. Given the reality of malware and all of the other potential variables considered when trying to protect and secure sensitive information, a BYOD policy could be a business' Achilles heel. A business cannot dictate what an employee can or cannot do in their private lives, and their personal devices are part of that. Whether it be from torrents, email attachments, or just surfing the web, personal devices are vulnerable, and this is a variable a business cannot easily control. When implementing a BYOD policy, it is important to take into account the potential risks associated with a personal device.
Productivity loss. Another drawback to a BYOD policy is the potential loss in productivity. With an employee using their own personal device there very well could be a temptation to use it for personal uses. With Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, personal email, and an absurdly high number of gaming applications at their fingertips, a loss in productivity is a reality that management must take into account when considering a change in policy.
Standardization. Another concern to take into account would be file formatting. With multiple employees using multiple devices, utilizing several different forms of software across several different platforms, some issues with file formatting could arise. Be it less problematic issues like differing text document formats, or more serious ones. For example, your business may heavily rely on a particular piece of software that can only be run on a Windows PC, but some of your employees may only own Mac computers. This may seem like a smaller issue. A company could easily find a way around this problem, but these are factors a company must take into account when considering a policy such as this.
What about the benefits?
The bottom dollar. The first benefit is relatively obvious, money. When a company decides to implement a “Bring Your Own Device” policy, the company is primarily looking to cut their startup costs. Likewise, well-established small businesses would be looking to eliminate the costs associated with getting everyone in the organization smartphones or tablets that allow them to take advantage of the connectivity and collaboration advantages that these devices can bring to the workplace. A policy such as this could save a company a small fortune in costs.
Device familiarity. Familiarity is another benefit that could arise from a company implementing such a policy. An employee already knows their own personal devices. They should already have a basic understanding of how to efficiently use the software they already have. They should have a familiarity with some of the issues that may arise from using a particular device, and already know how to best handle said issue. An employee may already know how to handle certain networking, hardware, software, and firmware problems that may arise. The employee will also have a strong familiarity with the operating system and how best to handle the inevitable systemic issues that are commonplace amongst the various operating systems on the market.
This article is only a brief introduction to the many factors that a manager or small business owner must take into account when making different policy decisions in the workplace. I have only gone over a few of the different situations that may arise with regards to this policy. Each business may have a different company culture, and it is ultimately up to those in management positions to know what policies will yield the best results in their own contexts.
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