In the last few years, the iconic, laptop-toting road warrior has been replaced by more mobile users of smartphones and tablets. These users no longer power up a corporate laptop to read email, check the status of an order via instant messaging or hold an important video conference with a key client. With more organizations embracing bring your own device (BYOD) programs, these mobile employees are using mobile unified communications applications on their personally-owned devices to get their jobs done.
However, the newfound flexibility of BYOD raises some novel challenges for managing mobile unified communications (UC) sessions. UC managers need to put products and policies in place so they can track, secure and monitor these interactions.
"Enterprises are trying to figure out how to deal with the consumerization of IT," said Stacy Crook, senior analyst at IDC.
Employees now have great latitude in purchasing systems, which can lead to unsecured, sensitive information walking out the door every day. While still early in their evolution, best practices are emerging that address these challenges.
The influx of mobile devices has been unprecedented. IMS Research expects that smartphone sales will increase from 420 million worldwide in 2011 to more than 1 billion in 2016. The number of tablet systems is also rising at an exponential rate: Market research firm Frost and Sullivan projects that shipments of business tablets reached 600,000 units in 2010 and will grow to 49.1 million in 2015.
BYOD devices provide employees with more flexibility. "Today, only about one of every five white collar employees works solely in the office," noted Andrew W. Davis, an analyst at Wainhouse Research. As employees go on the road and use UC applications to connect with coworkers, customers and suppliers, sensitive data moves with them, creating new compliance, management and security challenges. So, what steps can a company take to address such problems?
Conduct a mobile unified communications audit
"In regards to mobile management, the first place to start is with an audit," suggested IDC's Crook. On their lunch hour, employees walk into the corner store, watch a demo and select a smartphone or tablet. Then they bring it back to the office and start downloading corporate data. Because users have so much autonomy, IT departments often do not know what devices are attached to their enterprise network.
Establish an acceptable use policy for mobile unified communications
After determining who the mobile users are, businesses need to establish appropriate network usage policies.
"One way that employees get around policies designed to protect corporate data is by emailing company information to their personal accounts, like Gmail," Crook said.
Consequently, businesses have to determine how much latitude they will give their employees when transmitting business information; for instance, top executives may be able to use consumer email systems but line-level personnel may not.
Develop sound security practices around mobile unified communications
Securing corporate data has become more difficult because employees now carry it in a shirt pocket or a purse. In enterprises, the chances are good that a few of these devices will be lost. Ideally, the company would recover the system, and one way to help is to plaster the company telephone number on the device's casing and its startup screen.
If the system is not recovered, a few steps can mitigate potential damage. At the very least, corporations should enact sound password system policies. They need to require that user selections include multiple characters in a series featuring both letters and numbers, so the system cannot be easily cracked. In case that is not enough, a Wipe and Lock function automatically erases company data if an outsider tries to access it.
Invest in mobile device management solutions
While UC products have been enhanced to support mobile devices like Google Android systems and Apple iPhones and iPads, they were not designed to manage such connections. Their native management tools offer rudimentary functions focused more on making sure that users can access applications like instant messaging than on IT concerns, such as what information users are accessing. Corporations may want to take a look at mobile device management tools from vendors like AirWatch LLC, Good Technology Inc., Mobile Iron, Research in Motion Ltd., Sybase Inc., Symantec Corp. and Zenprise. These products include functions like auditing tools and device tracking that help businesses manage handheld systems.
The influx of small, highly-functional end-user devices is dramatically changing how UC users interact with corporate data. While these systems help companies streamline communications and improve productivity, they also make it more difficult for IT departments to manage such connections. Some best practices have emerged, and others are expected to crystallize as the market continues to mature.
About the author:
Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who has been covering networking issues for two decades. He is based in Sudbury, Mass. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.