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Move to workforce mobility demands vigilance

Enterprises that go mobile can benefit from increased productivity, but only if they craft policies and use products that monitor access and secure data.

Bringing mobile devices into an enterprise carries certain consumer expectations with it. When making the changeover to a mobile workforce, it’s important to provide employees enough agility and data access to keep them from straying off the network.

There are well over a billion smartphones in the hands of consumers, and as consumers we’ve developed very high expectations of quick and easy access to content, services and products. Enterprise employees have similarly high standards, demanding the best in mobile applications and technologies to help them do their jobs from anywhere, anytime.

Enterprises have taken notice of these expectations. The problem is they are quickly realizing that the transition to a more mobile workforce is easier said than done. It is quite a departure from the infrastructure and expenditure comfort zone that businesses have had over the past several decades.

It's one thing to manage a few hundred or a few thousand laptops, but when the company starts supporting bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives and allowing several devices per employee onto the network, the challenges can be considerable. Information security concerns alone can halt workforce mobility in its tracks.

Yet despite such concerns, there should be little doubt that the benefits of going mobile can far outweigh the potential downsides. If organizations use the proper technologies and governance policies, employees should be more efficient and provide better services to customers.

IT chases mobile developments

In today's increasingly mobile world, the enterprise workforce is extended farther from the office than ever before. Telecommuting, reaching out to customers in new locations, and working from the road domestically and internationally are now the norm.

There should be little doubt that the benefits of going mobile can far outweigh the potential downsides.

Enterprises are rapidly turning to mobile devices as their primary computing endpoints to broaden their reach. And mobile users now expect access to a wide array of applications and sensitive content from behind the traditional firewall.

When organizations don't offer mobile managed and secured solutions, workers respond by turning to alternative methods to access and share content. According to a recent Forrester survey, almost 25% of global information workers use consumer-based file sync and share services for corporate documents. Because these services are beyond enterprise controls over secured access points, this exposes the company to a host of data leakage vulnerabilities and unwanted access threats.

For example, employees will email sensitive content to personal addresses to gain access on their mobile devices. From there, they will open the documents in mobile applications to make updates before sending them back to their corporate email.

While the employees are trying to remain productive, they have violated multiple policies, and the content was outside of corporate control and unencrypted both in transit and at rest. Furthermore, the applications used in this practice are also a vulnerability because they may not be approved for appropriate use.

IT tries to regain control

IT departments have been forced to play catch-up as they try to regain control of corporate assets and rein in activity outside their networks. In today's mobile environment, secured and managed access points for content sharing on mobile devices are required to protect and grow a business.

In addition, the number of devices per employee is increasing. Employees are using smartphones and tablets, as well as company-owned laptops, to perform daily tasks. With the increase in number of endpoints, the complexity of the infrastructure needed to support workforce mobility increases as well.

The combination of far-reaching new endpoints, demands for access to sensitive information and an increasing number of devices connecting to enterprise networks sounds like a recipe for disaster. But workforce productivity gains and improved customer service could lead to a significant increase in brand loyalty and revenue.

Enterprise IT has also been charged with increasing levels of workforce productivity and reducing operating costs. As organizations take advantage of new cloud-based and software as a service technologies, the cost of ownership in many cases is lower than that of maintaining an on-premises infrastructure.

Using mobility to improve employee productivity

Maximizing mobile efficiency can be challenging for many organizations. As companies launch BYOD programs, IT must support key job functions and meet line-of-business requirements. Enterprise mobile services must also promote productivity without adding substantial complexity for end users -- otherwise, their benefits could be quickly negated.

Plus, the consumerization of IT has led workers to expect mobile applications with a positive user experience and easy and reliable access to corporate content. A clunky application, or hurdles to access to pertinent data, will erode worker effectiveness and interest in using enterprise systems. So IT departments need to figure out how to deliver on these expectations in a secure and reliable fashion.

Unlike other technology trends, going mobile is a direction and not a decision. Businesses can't afford to ignore mobility or hope that it will manage itself, since they can mitigate risks with sound policies and technologies.

This was last published in February 2015

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How does your company’s mobile device policy balance access and security?
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My company balances access and security for our mobile device users by requiring a multi-tier authentication process to access company cloud files and data while on the road. We also have a strict policy that forbids jailbreaking any of the mobile devices as this presents too great a risk of malware attacks and other security breaches. Any employee found to have jailbroken a device receives a reprimand or potential dismissal.
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It's just me, so I ensure that I use one system, integrated with my wired and business computers. I password protect everything and I use regular skepticism, backups and common sense in a rotating way to keep all my data safe, yet accessible.
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One solution that I’ve seen for Android devices is an application that creates a virtual, segregated partition on the user’s device that is used for work related use. The user starts the application to access the partition, and whatever the user does, downloads, or accesses while in that application stays in that partition and cannot be accessed from the applications and services on the other partition. The application will also detect whether or not the device has been rooted, and will not install if root is detected, further helping ensure the safety and integrity of the company’s information.
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I think user and user security needs can be reconciled through the implementation of policies that guarantee secure and managed access points for content sharing.
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