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BYO mobile device policies – pros and cons

October 1, 2014

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Photo via Ed Yourdon, Flickr.com

On a recent road trip, our one-hour pit stop at a rural casino was noteworthy for more than the bargain prime rib and the slot-machine jackpot:  A slot-area attendant had a small tablet or large smartphone strapped to her forearm.  Whether answering a question about the location of a popular slot or sending information to the cashier’s office about the need for a player payout, the employee consulted her mobile device frequently and told me it had replaced the computer terminals that used to be scattered discreetly throughout the gambling hall.

A few weeks earlier, an antique shop proprietor in middle-of-nowhere Missouri asked us to bear with him as he tried out a credit-card processing app on his smartphone.  And just the other day in blustery Chicago, a conference vendor used a smartphone to sell me some books.

It’s no secret that the use of mobile technology is outpacing that of desktop.  But as the use of mobile devices goes beyond accepted to expected, there are a number of  BYOD (bring your own device) questions worth asking.  Here’s a 2014 Sage survey, for example, that finds more than half of U.S. employees use mobile equipment to access work-related information.

First of all, what are the legal implications when an employee mingles business and pleasure on the same device?  And more will be doing so:  A 2013 Gartner survey found that by 2017, half of employers will require workers to supply their own mobile devices, even those used for work purposes.

What are workers giving up when they agree to install work-related apps, e-mail and other programs on their personal equipment?  And what are workers entitled to?  Here’s a CIO Journal piece about the “kill” functions and other cybersecurity tools an employer can install to protect itself and its consumers  — but the article also mentions proposed laws that would require employers to reimburse workers who use personal devices for business use.

And what are the caveats specific to the beats you cover?  Health care presents huge challenges, for example, because both patient health info and their financial billing records can be at risk.  And of course, data breaches at mega retailers are distressingly common lately (hello, Home Depot) and a recent FierceMobile IT story says “Companies without strong BYOD policies risk major data breach.”  With shoppers increasingly wary of using their plastic at point of sale, yet about to embark on the annual spending frenzy, why not poll area corporations, retailers and restaurants about the evolution of their mobile device polices.  Why shouldn’t consumers be worried that a smartphone equipped server isn’t also skimming their private information, for example?

Second, when a workforce is increasingly represented by part-time, low-wage workers, can inability to support a state-of-the-art mobile device be one more barrier to the workforce?   With seasonal holiday hiring booming, what are workers expected to provide on the job at restaurants, stores and entertainment venues?

And of course, the question of work-life balance comes in.  CIO magazine asks “Is BYOD burning out your workforce?” and a recent article about Daimler Chrysler’s curbs on vacation e-mails (they let employees set an away function to delete anything that comes in during vacation days) garnered plenty of wistful comments by New York Times readers.  With many people planning holidays in coming months, you could talk with area employers about the latest in formal and informal policies about how tethered workers are to their electronic leashes.


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