The bring your own device (BYOD) to work movement has gone mainstream.
Once relegated to a handful of technology wonks, the desire to use personal smartphones and tablet computers at work is now a business megatrend. In fact, a recent Forrester survey of 10,000 workers found that 43% of today’s information workers have used their own personal technology devices to help them do their jobs, with over half of the workers paying for the devices themselves. Truth is, almost everything written about BYOD looks at the benefits and risks for businesses to support this trend. And with good reason. With all the upside, companies put a lot on the line when they allow employees to use the own devices at work.
But what about you, the individual? Certainly you’d be the coolest person in the room if you were to project your latest presentation using an iPad instead of a PC. And you may actually be reducing ‘separation anxiety’ from work by viewing mail while at the mall, the ball game, or your children’s recital. But what are your risks? Here are some questions to ask your employer if BYOD is standard practice in your workplace:
Data privacy. You may be at risk when you walk around with corporate information on your device. If your device is lost or stolen, what liability do you assume? If you quit your job or get fired, what policies and procedures does your employer have in place to recover their data while removing any potential liability from yourself?
Costs. While it might make your life easier now, do you really want to continue paying for your employer’s technology? What might be cool today could get pretty annoying tomorrow. Once businesses get used to the convenience of having employees ‘ponying up’ for tools, it might be hard to wean them off this in the future. Also, if you buy mobile apps for business use and your employer reimburses you, what happens to them when you quit or leave your job?
Data ownership. When you leave your place of employment, who owns the intellectual property stored on your phone or tablet? If you have stored corporate data like documents or databases, the answer is straightforward. But what about information like phone numbers and contact information of people who reside in your personal contact application? If you are a sales or support person and your phone number is published as a work number for people to reach you, does the employer expect to use that number when you leave the company?
Also, some companies employ technology to wipe a smartphone or tablet clean if it gets stolen or is lost. In most cases, there is no way to differentiate between personal and professional data. If your company uses such technology, you take the risk of losing all your personal data they decide to wipe your device clean.
Liability. The list of potential gotchas here is quite long, but here are some things that immediately come to mind:
- Data can be stolen from your device at insecure Internet hotspots
- Information you store ‘in the cloud’ can be hacked
- You share applications for both work and personal use
- Information stored for backup gets compromised
- Email or other programs you are using are not considered secure by corporate standards
Furthermore, if you get sued for some action you carried out on behalf of your employer on your personal device, are you covered and will your employer take responsibility for your actions? In each of these cases, who takes responsibility for damages that transpire?
BYOD is still largely unchartered water, so here are some concrete steps to take before bringing that new iPad to work:
1. Clearly delineate where personal and professional data is stored on your device. Make it easy to delete applications and files (via online storage repositories like Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive, or Google Drive) you are using for business.
2. Make sure that any ‘wipe clean’ technology does not remove your personal data without your permission. Make sure your personal data is current and backed up in a safe place that is not related to your phone or tablet.
3. Verify that your company has clear policies and procedures for dealing with data privacy issues, and that you are OK with them, upfront.
4. Obtain an alias phone number for professional use. Many services provide call-forwarding for voice over IP (VOIP) numbers. Order one of these numbers for work purposes. That way, when you leave your place of employment, all you have to do is cancel your forwarded number. Any sane employer should gladly pay for this service.
5. If the idea of BYOD is new to your company, draft a letter of understanding the clarifies issues related to the use of your personal device. The list above provides a good starting point, but it makes sense to consult a professional if you really want to be covered.
And like anything else you buy, caveat emptor.
If you have any other ideas about BYOD or have personal experiences related to BYOD, please share them at: email@example.com  or tweet me at: @dlavenda.
Author David Lavenda is a high tech marketing and product strategy executive who also does academic research on information overload in organizations. He is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.
[Image: Flickr user Anthony Munoz ]