Top 4 BYOD Challenges Small Businesses Face

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A 20-person oil and gas exploration business recently faced a dilemma when a senior-level executive left, taking his personal Blackberry with him. “He had pictures of his kids, along with emails about deals they were renegotiating and all sorts of corporate contacts,” says David Rosenbaum, who runs Real-Time Computer Services and worked with the firm.

But, the company had only recently started allowing employees to use their personal mobile devices for work and had little experience dealing with the matter. Should they wipe out everything on the device, including pictures of vacations and weddings, or let it all remain with an assurance from the executive that he would delete corporate data on his own?

In the end, according to Rosenbaum, the company decided not to wipe out the data. Instead, the owners would take the executive, a long-time and trusted employee, at his word that he would get rid of sensitive corporate date from his Blackberry.

BYOD, an acronym for Bring Your Own Device, refers to the growing trend for employees to use their own iPhones, Androids, iPads, or other equipment instead of company-owned and supplied gizmos.

But, as Rosenbaum’s client discovered, turning your small company into a BYOD workplace isn’t as simple as it might seem at first glance. There’s a wide range of security and management issues you need to consider. And, for small businesses that might lack the resources or staff to oversee and support all those different devices, it can be a particularly delicate matter.

The answer is to think through all the potential issues beforehand and, when appropriate, include them in a written corporate policy. With that in mind, here’s a look at four major considerations and the best way to approach them.

When employees lose their device—or leave the company

One big issue is the one that faced Rosenbaum’s client: what to do if, say, an employee forgets an iPhone in the airport—or just plain quits? Since the device undoubtedly was connected to your server, you have the ability to wipe out all those emails about, for example, confidential plans. That also means eradicating the personal pictures, music, and other applications probably sitting on the device.

Your best move: Having a written policy is of utmost importance. Your policy should include that, when employees leave your company, the data on their devices will be wiped out. Another approach is to separate corporate and personal data, requiring different passwords to get in.  Alert employees to the need to back up their personal photos, contacts, and provide guidance on how to do that.

At different track would be to say you won’t wipe out data but, at the same time, employees are obligated not to use confidential information once they leave the company.

How to support all those devices

Most likely, you have a small IT staff, or maybe none at all. How can you support the additional devices your employees will be using without hiring more people or adding to your already over-worked staff?

Your best move: It all depends on your resources. The fewer you have, the less responsibility you’ll be able to assume. Rosenbaum points to a client, a 14-person accounting firm that recently allowed employees to use their iPhones. With just an office manager handling support, company owners made it clear that employees were responsible for handling technical problems. “I took care of connecting the phone to the server, but after that, it wasn’t part of the office manager’s responsibilities,” says Rosenbaum.

One helpful move is to limit the devices you allow. Another is to create a checklist of steps employees must take, anything from turning on spell check to using a standard signature block at the end of each email.

Dealing with distractions

If employees have access to personal devices with their favorite apps in easy reach, the opportunity to spend valuable time playing Angry Birds may be too tempting to ignore.

Your best move: You need to lay out expectations regarding just what employees should use their devices for during work time. Don’t get too strict, but make it clear their priority should be to get their work done– and not to do anything that could embarrass the company.

Another approach is to do what you can to make employees’ use of their own devices as productive as possible. To that end, Phelan’s company holds a monthly pizza party during which people share something interesting they’ve done with their personal mobile equipment. One marketing employee recently demonstrated new ways to use Twitter to win clients, for example.

The temptation to contact employees 24/7

The fact is you know your employees will have their devices with them, turned on, much of the time. So there’s more of a temptation to contact them on their off hours.

Your best move: In this case, it’s really a matter of your own behavior. “You have to make sure not to abuse that power,” says Rosenbaum.

Guest Author: Anne Field

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