The bring your own device (BYOD) phenomenon has taken IT by storm in recent times, and is a constant talking point in offices all over the world. ITProPortal chatted with Anders Lofgren, the vice president of product management at Acronis, to find out more about how such an apparently simple trend has become such a huge source of fierce debate.
According to Lofgren, the rise and rise of BYOD has almost been a natural process, fuelled by rapid and constant innovation. The fact that companies have created new technologies at such a fast rate has made products better, cheaper and more widely available to consumers. For example, Lofgren recalls that 20 years ago, he did not own a personal computer, let alone a smartphone or a tablet.
"We didn't have as much interaction with technology. Today we're bombarded with technology - all kinds of things all the time - so employees have just become tremendously more tech-savvy than they were even 10 years ago."
Lofgren, like so many in the IT industry, believes that BYOD has to be embraced by employers as soon as possible, because failing to do so is likely to result in adverse consequences. However, many companies are still of the opinion that BYOD is a mere fashion which will eventually fade away.
"Our own research into BYOD and the study that we did earlier this year indicated that 60 per cent of companies ... do not have a policy for BYOD today," said Lofgren. "And other people that I talk to believe that number is actually higher. I'm not sure it really matters whether that's 70 or 80 per cent. What matters is that that's a pretty big number."
As is often the case, Lofgren believes that the most significant risk that comes with this BYOD ignorance is in the realm of security. Workers will continue to use their own gadgets in the workplace, whether that is in compliance with company policy or not, and that makes the possibility of data loss a real issue. "I don't think there's a guarantee that [businesses] will lose important corporate data but they're certainly significantly increasing the risk that they do [without implementing BYOD policies]," said Lofgren.
But who is to blame for this seemingly uncontrollable movement? Has the IT department lost its way or have consumers simply become a lot more demanding?
"I don't believe that there's blame to be allotted out on this," said Lofgren. "The reality of the situation is that we have now a world where everyday people have a tremendous amount of access to technologies.
"We have so much greater interaction around technology, so when we get into the workplace our experiences in our everyday lives shape our expectations for work. So what has happened now is we come into work and expect a certain thing. The tools that I work with at work - the software, some of the hardware products - in the back of my mind I'll maybe think, 'If I had my iPhone or iPad it'd actually be a whole lot easier to do this.'
"It's not a question of whether there's blame, it's just that suddenly the end-user has a whole lot more input and power over the technology that they use."
However, while this debate continues to rage on, Lofgren believes the picture is actually much bigger than it initially appears, indicating that people tend to forget that BYOD is just one component of BYOX. "It's not just hardware devices but also my everyday interactions with technologies. I will go check the balance of my bank account online and make a bunch of payments through there. I'll check my personal email on Gmail."
Lofgren also had strong words for companies that are still refusing to accept the BYOX reality.
"I think that at some point you have to wake up and acknowledge that this thing is really happening. Whether or not you have a policy around it or not, I will bet you a lot of money that you have employees that are using their personal devices for work, and moreso they're also using unauthorised services like Dropbox."
Lofgren believes that Dropbox is a potential source of enormous problems for the enterprise, since it is easy for the company to completely lose control of any files uploaded to the storage service, which can be further complicated when Dropbox-using employees leave the company. It is a problem because it deprives the IT department of visibility. In Lofgren's words, "There's a huge data leakage issue there."
According to Lofgren, Acronis avoided such issues because it was quick to embrace the movement, developing solutions that would simultaneously make employees more efficient and make things easier to control from a management and security perspective. The next stage is for organisations to think hard about how to approach BYOX in as productive a manner as possible.
"How do you actually allow people to use things like iPads in a very effective and productive way for their jobs? But how do you also maintain the security, the management - the control from an IT perspective - that makes everybody comfortable with bringing devices into work?"
These are the key questions that employers need to find answers to.