IBM stung by BYOD pitfalls

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The whole bring-your-own-device trend may cause as many problems as it solves, according to IBM CIO Jeanette Horan.

BYOD, in which companies let (even encourage) employees to use their personal smartphone or other tablet of choice for work, was driven largely by the popularity of Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices and embraced by companies that saw it as a way to boost productivity and mobility of their workers. But it turns out that the same proliferation of cloud-based services that lets users access applications and data via mobile devices both enables BYOD and causes companies to question its use.

That’s the risk Horan pointed out in a new Technology Review article. IBM, according to the story, provides Blackberrys for about 40,000 of its 400,000 workers while 80,000 more use their own smartphones or tablets to access IBM networks. And that’s where the trouble began.

IBM soon realized that it had no grasp of which apps and services employees were using on their personal devices and set forth guidelines of proper use. It banned, for example, the use of such popular services as Dropbox cloud-based storage. The well-justified fear was that employees would put IBM-sensitive information in their personal Dropbox accounts and forward internal email to public Web mail services, or use their smartphones as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. All of these scenarios constitute a CIO’s nightmare, as GigaOM has reported.

Said Horan: “We found a tremendous lack of awareness as to what constitutes a risk, [so now] we’re trying to make people aware.” These BYOD risks are not really new. What’s interesting is that a big tech company like IBM got bitten by this bug.

According to the story, before IBM will allow an employee to access its networks with his or her device, it must make adjustments.

The IT department configures it so that its memory can be erased remotely if it is lost or stolen. The IT crew also disables public file-transfer programs like Apple’s iCloud; instead, employees use an IBM-hosted version called MyMobileHub. IBM even turns off Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant, on employees’ iPhones. The company worries that the spoken queries might be stored somewhere.

Here’s the problem: If IBM (or any other company) is going to strip these devices of the very things that attracted users to begin with, chances are, those devices will stop being used for work at all.  Who wins then?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user saebaryo

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