Tablets Invading the Enterprise? Companies Can Still Keep Calm and Carry On.

invadersThis past holiday season, tablets were joyfully unwrapped by the millions. In fact, a total of 17.4 million iOS and Android devices were activated on Christmas Day alone, according to a report by Flurry Analytics; and, of those, about half (8.9 million) were tablets. Factor in post-holiday shopping, and you’ve got a historic influx of personal devices. But new personal devices aren’t going to stay at home, they’re coming into the workplace. It’s giving some enterprise IT departments cause for panic as they count off the ways this bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend complicates one of their primary duties: Data protection.

BYOD is pervasive whether enterprise decision-makers have embraced it or not. In fact, research by Harris Interactive reveals that 81 percent of employees already use personal devices at work. BYOD is an affordable way for connected, data-driven employees to work around the usual hassle of IT, and next-generation smartphones and tablets offer them invaluable productivity and file-collaboration applications. So, for all of its advantages, why does BYOD cause more and more anxiety within organizations, particularly since using mobile devices in the enterprise became standard decades ago?

The big IT dilemma with tablets and other personal devices is data protection, plain and simple. The days of company-issued BlackBerries are long gone. Now, as privately owned tablets and other personal devices log on to corporate networks and exchange company files, it becomes harder and harder for IT departments to guarantee the accessibility, availability and protection of data stored outside the “four walls” of their own infrastructures.

Data is moving between secure corporate servers and unregistered personal devices, and even into third-party storage services like DropBox, which makes it difficult to protect sensitive information and leaves it vulnerable to corruption — or worse, leakage to malicious hackers or fraudsters. Corporate data obtained through tablets and smartphones — including employee information, text messages, emails and confidential documents — is incredibly valuable for cyber criminals, and incredibly damaging to organizations and their customers. The threat of mobile data leakage is very real, and a recent Forrester survey found that nearly 40 percent of professionals were concerned about security on their devices.

Despite these risks of personal device use, the enterprise shouldn’t push back, but instead should plan and adapt by instituting new policies that make BYOD not only a productivity driver but a seamless and secure way to create more interconnected workplaces. That means the role of IT must change. IT must become an enabler, and ensure data is secure and available, regardless of where and how it is stored and accessed.

Shockingly, research by technology advocacy group ITIC found that 71 percent of businesses that permitted BYOD had no specific BYOD security or support policies. However, there are immediate steps enterprise decision-makers can take to create businesses that are primed for accommodating personal tablets and other devices without sacrificing business continuity and security. The first measure is to put in place policies and procedures that account for personal devices accessing the company network. These should include regular security audits to ensure mobile-related vulnerabilities are addressed and up to date. Additionally, business continuity plans should be updated to reflect BYOD realities. For example, employees should have an easy way to report when their devices are lost, so that IT can block access to company networks and wipe sensitive data clean.

However, policies and procedures aren’t enough to resolve data protection concerns in the BYOD era. It’s also important for enterprise decision-makers to seek out simple and comprehensive data solutions that help integrate personal device use and traditional IT, without complicating workflows for their employees. These include mobile device management (MDM) systems, which help IT regulate devices accessing corporate data, and central management tools that monitor all devices connected to the network. Additionally, employees need access to enterprise-friendly file-sharing, storage and collaboration tools, so they aren’t motivated to seek insecure, third-party alternatives like DropBox. Storage, backup and business continuity solutions should all be aligned with BYOD to create a seamless IT environment.

The advantages of BYOD are undeniable. For example, a recent CDW poll found that 84 percent of professionals experienced improved multitasking using tablets, and gained more than an hour in productivity benefits. If tablet and personal device use in general is such an asset to the workforce, enterprises must focus on making BYOD secure. The implication for IT and all enterprise decision-makers is clear: Data must be available, accessible and protected, regardless of where, when and how it is accessed. With that in mind, IT can keep calm and carry on as the tablets come marching in.

Scott Crenshaw is Senior Vice President of Strategy and Chief Marketing Officer at Acronis, a Woburn, Mass., company specializing in data availability, accessibility and protection solutions for physical, virtual and cloud environments.

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