Bringing your own technology to the office - what you need to know

We can all see the value in devices like Android, the iPad, and so on - here's how to make sure you and your employer are on the same page about them.

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Most of us remember the phrase "bring you own from" college. Back then, BYO was followed by the letter B for booze and it usually meant having a good time at a party. Today, BYO tends to be followed by the letter D for many of us – meaning bring your own device (or occasionally, by the letter P for either PC or smartphone).

With the current state of the economy and the rising popularity of consumer-associated smartphones, tablets, and computers (iPhone, Android phones, iPad, netbooks, and the like), companies big and small are noticing that their employees (particularly managers, salespeople, and others often on the road) are bringing these devices into the office and using them for both personal and work pursuits.

Needless to say, if this phenomenon leads to increased mobile productivity, new contacts, and a sense of ownership over clients or projects at no extra cost, it will appeal to any employer. After all, it saves them from buying a devices, configuring them with apps, and paying for things like calls, texts, or emails.

For employees, this isn’t exactly a bad situation. You get to use the device that you like and that suits your personal life and work habits best (be it an iPhone, iPad, Android phone, BlackBerry, MacBook Air, netbook, or anything else). You also get to choose a mobile carrier that has solid service where you work and live and get to choose the software and apps on it (and your boss can’t complain if you testing your kids or browsing sites like Epicurious to figure out what to cook for dinner as long as you get your work done).

All these factors have led to a generally positive attitude to BYOD in both large and small businesses.

As good as it sounds, this laissez-faire attitude isn’t without its challenges for both works and employers. For employers, there are concerns about what data is stored on the device, whether the device supports remote erasing of business data if lost or stolen (of if you leave the company – by choice or not), and how secure your access to internal resources is when you're in the field or at home. This is made more worrisome for managers and IT staff because they technically have no rights to control your personal smartphone, tablet, or computer (although IT departments typically still need to offer you tech support).

So what is the average worker to do?

First, be proactive – make it clear to you boss and any relevant managers that you are using your device for work – don’t keep it secret (chances are you’ll be commended for making the effort). Make it clear exactly how you’re using it – let people know that you’re accessing email and contact lists and nothing more (if that’s the case). If you’re connecting from outside the network, make sure you’re using a secure solution like a VPN (if you’re not sure ask).

Second, if you’re using any apps for work other than basic email, phone, contacts, calendar type stuff, be clear about it. You can win points by telling how you’re using a free or low-cost office suites or task management apps and encouraging their use among other staff members.

If there are apps that you think could be helpful that you don’t want to spend money on, ask for reimbursement for them (if you don’t get it and you may want to buy them anyway since you’ll probably be able to write them of your taxes, but ask first – it reflects well on you and it may help managers with the discussion of how to encourage an effective mobile workforce).

Finally, realize that your employer may not be comfortable with a free-for-all approach to personal devices. This is a big concern for CIOs and IT managers right now. They’re under a lot of pressure to deliver solutions and cut costs (which means that you choosing a device is a big plus over them having to buy and configure it, and pay for ongoing use), but they’re also charged with keeping company information secure. With so many new devices coming to market these days, supporting them and meeting security requirements if probably keeping them up at night (check out this list of issues that I wrote recently from their perspective if you want some details).

Reach out to them to discuss how you can meet their security needs and acknowledge how you use the device(s) – they’ll probably be ecstatic if you acknowledge that this is a big challenge for them and that you are willing to work with them to meet it. Even so, they may ask for some level of access to your device and/or to install more secure applications or secure ways to access company resources. As much as this may feel like a breach of privacy, try to understand that it’s a function of their job and they’re doing it to protect the company as well as you if anything untoward happens – still, ask them to explain why they need access, but don’t be combative about it.

All in all, using your own mobile devices for work can be reward for you and your employer. Just keep in mind that as new as these technologies are to you, they are to everyone else and try to be flexible about using them. That will probably help you be more productive, comfortable with the technology, and it will definitely illustrate that you're an employee that is forward-thinking – the type of person any employer needs right now.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfass.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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