A mobile workforce is an integral part of a modern business, but small and medium businesses often don’t have the resources to deploy and manage a wide range of devices and operating systems. So what’s the best approach?
All businesses are mobile these days, whether they like to admit it or not. Many larger businesses can afford to divert significant resources to a mobile strategy that lets workers access all the relevant applications and data from whatever device they like. Small and medium sized businesses (SMBs), on the other hand, often lack the financial and human resources to do the same.
That said, the sorts of companies falling within the SMB definition can differ wildly. Gartner’s definition, for example, is that a small business is one with fewer than 100 employees, while a medium-sized business has between 100 and 999. Financial performance can also be used to define SMBs: businesses with revenue under $50 million are considered small, while those with revenue between $50 million and $1 billion are considered medium.
But, wherever your business falls within those definitions, the approaches to a mobile strategy are the same. The key is to first establish whether the business will be providing the devices or letting workers use their own – the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) route.
There are pros and cons to both options. For businesses purchasing the devices and handing them out to users, the benefit is control. Managing and updating the devices is simpler, and when an employee leaves they simply hand them back. The drawback is that buying and managing the devices tends to cost more and be more demanding on the IT department. That’s if the company even has an IT department, which many smaller businesses do not.
The other option is to let workers use their own devices. Workers prefer this because they know they’re using a device they’re comfortable with. Businesses like this approach because it’s cheaper. However, BYOD opens up the business to a large number of different devices and mobile operating systems, and supporting them all can prove to be a nightmare.
According to Quocirca analyst Rob Bamforth, one of the keys to getting a mobile strategy right is to ensure that everyone is on board right from the start. Of course, that’s easier in a smaller company, where roles are often much less defined and collaboration is more common.
“People need to be brought in to the existing strategy,” says Bamforth. “It’s good to work towards some commonality while essentially reducing the options for the business. There’s no corporate resource that will be available to support everyone, so they either need to be much more self-supported, or you need to limit the choices by working towards a consensus.”
This common consensus could mean, for example, the business supports a certain type of mobile platform. If workers already own their own device, but it’s not the one the business is moving towards, their access could be restricted to certain parts of the business, such as email, but nothing that contains more sensitive data. For that, the worker will have to use a managed device.
“When it comes to something like document sharing, an organisation can step a little way into that gap between IT-managed and user-managed,” Bamforth suggests. “It’s simply a matter of setting out rules for dealing with corporate data.”
There are, of course, tools available to help with controlling access to sensitive data, but that will inevitably involve a substantial financial investment. For SMBs, a wiser strategy could be one of signed agreements with workers. Even then, a business is unlikely to eliminate the risk entirely.
“The way you slow it down is by establishing corporate procedures and letting workers know they could face disciplinary action if they ignore it,” Bamforth explains.
As well as taking time to consider the start of a mobile strategy, businesses must also consider what happens at the end – specifically when an employee leaves. A personal mobile device is just that, so a worker will continue to use it after they have moved on to another job.
A mobile strategy must make provisions for this situation, so that an ex-employee does not have access to sensitive data. As part of the standard exit interview, workers should delete access to data and applications and, if necessary, IT should change passwords to any services the employee may have had access to.
Ultimately, an SMB’s mobile strategy should start by getting staff on board and educating them on how to avoid risks when working from mobile devices, whether they are business- or employee-owned. “Have a strategy, get the buy-in, get an understanding and commonality, and then start to apply tools that can automate policy enforcement at a later date, as the need grows,” Bamforth concludes.