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Employees vs IT: How to manage the BYOD balancing act

The bring your own device (BYOD) trend is continuing to establish itself as the IT industry's current buzz term. Like 'cloud' before it, the technology and potential business benefits have been somewhat hyped up by enthusiastic commentators, but now that the concept is more recognised, we're seeing the market begin to establish itself.

Everyone, from large international organisations like Shell, to universities and academic institutions, are publically embracing BYOD. Specialists in the sector are also starting to reap the rewards of a growing market.

As personal devices have become commonplace in the office, they appear to have left the door wide open for employee-introduced communication and collaboration services to follow them through. Where previously employees might have picked up a good old-fashioned phone or used a messaging service to communicate with colleagues, there is an increasing preference for personalised communication services. The likes of Skype, instant messenger services and online collaboration apps like Google Apps and Drive are increasingly used in the office, sometimes referred to as bring your own application (BYOA).

This has led to a strange scenario where the IT department is almost playing second fiddle to employees, in terms of the implementation of new technology and services. What happens next is inevitable; a clash between end users and IT over more effective communication versus the security and compliance risks.

What do employees want?

A recent report by Forrester found that employees greatly favour pleasant, intuitive user interfaces when choosing their communication and collaboration platforms. This should not be a huge surprise. As with the BYOD trend before it, BYOA is driven by an employee's personal enthusiasm for an application or tool.

However, these employee decisions are not driven solely by aesthetics. The same Forrester report found employees tend to download apps of their own choice on work devices to be more productive, and use personal communications services and apps for both personal and work purposes.

While this does represent a slight intrusion of the personal life into the office, it's not so different to casual office interaction. On the flipside, the potential for an increase in productivity with minimal or no effort on the part of the businesses shouldn't be ignored.

A balancing act

Placating security and control fears while still presenting employees with access to the communication tools and apps they want to use is a difficult balance to manage and maintain. IT managers must ensure all employee activity adheres to security and compliance parameters – however wide-reaching that may be. The most successful collaboration tools are proving to be the ones designed to win over the end user, while also providing IT professionals with the controls, security and manageability they need.

The combination of a workforce with an increasingly specific IT agenda, and an IT department constrained by budget and resources results in a two-headed challenge for IT leaders. Giving employees free reign to use any tool they choose is not an option, but neither is removing the option altogether. It would be a brave IT Manager who'd try to take away Skype from a workforce of daily users.

The role of IT

In a sense, the IT department's role has shifted to that of a consultant – tasked with developing a set of rules for data security that doesn't restrict users. Granting staff seamless access to critical applications, and managing these connections closely, is essential to striking the right balance between guaranteeing the security of confidential data and keeping workers happy.

Providing a policy to guide workers is another option IT professionals should consider. For example, policies covering applicable restrictions and providing strict guidelines can be included in existing company handbooks.

Implementing these policies reduces the business' liability in the case of a data breach, and also ensures employees are well aware of the potential risks of using their own apps at work. Enabling workers to use the applications they desire, while ensuring data is secured, means a balance is achieved and the workforce is content.

In short, the IT department needs to decide which personal collaboration services they should allow for which employees to use, under which conditions, and for which purpose. Once this is decided it must be enforced, with clear accountability and processes defined.

As the BYOX trend develops, the IT professional's role as we know it will be transformed. The BYO 'workers revolution' is here to stay, so businesses must adapt to ensure they remain competitive. While this can seem daunting, the evolution has the potential to make the role of IT professionals even more important, although that role might be slightly different to the one we recognise today.

David Blair is vice president of products at LogMeIn.

Image: Flickr (Victor1558)