Why your business shouldn’t try and hold back the mobile riptide

One of the hot potatoes for CIOs at the moment – and believe me it isn’t going to get any easier – is how much mobile access – if any – do you allow staff to access company data and email through their smartphones, iPADS, netbooks, etc while away from the office.

The fortress mentality of old that “we’re the company, and we can build the walls high and tell you what you can and can not do and where you can and can not do it,” is starting to show cracks. As recent events in the Middle East have shown, a small groundswell can eventually lead to collapse of the status quo.

Mobility is increasing

Despite the fact the employees can access their own PCs and data via the likes of SugarSync, Dropbox et al, entry into the sacred portals of the organisation should not be dictated by the users. Access should only be introduced into the enterprise because it can solve specific problems or meet specific needs.

But given that communications mobility is increasing and that the demands for smarter working practices will grow, do you think you can hold back the tide when mobile access can be shown to benefit the organisation?

Let us keep an open mind and admit that there are benefits. For example, one car manufacturer is rolling out the use of iPads to their sales force because they find it easier for the salespeople to start gathering financial information while the customer is out test driving the car instead of waiting for him or her to return and then feed them to the financial executive.

Business risk issue

There are tools that allow you to control your data and only your data on mobile devices. This makes it possible to reasonably allow a much wider range of choices for employees, many of whom would happily purchase their own phone and even the service plan if they were allowed to choose the device and have the flexibility to upgrade and change on their schedule not the enterprises.

It’s not that difficult, especially if the cost offset from the employee purchase of equipment can pay for the management software required. What you would probably see is that both productivity and morale of employees increasing

Arguments about controlling devices so strictly and trying to minimise choices resemble very closely when PCs first came into the enterprise. Those that fought the introduction lost the argument big time and I have this vision of CIOs as King Canute trying to hold back the waters with this latest riptide.

Smartphones

Take a step back and look at this as a business risk issue and not a technical one. Create a flow chart of job roles and data types and construct a policy that supports this. Start with your standard mobile phone and work up through device types such as smartphones to tablets, netbooks, laptops etc.

A good policy based on data protection rather than devices will survive each new wave of whatever technology throws at us. Do not forget to educate the employees about the policy and enforce it.

As one CIO stated categorically: “Success should be an organisation making use of the technology in an appropriate way and being more effective. Success is not deterring staff from using the tools they are familiar with by building barriers.”

So what are your views on mobile computing in the enterprise?

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Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.