December 19, 2011 | last updated June 4, 2012 11:29 am
FOCUS ON THE WORKPLACE

Office technology is getting personal | Consumer device usage at work quickly becoming the norm

PHOTO/KRISTINA FALVO
PHOTO/KRISTINA FALVO
Brent Robertson, a partner at Hartford’s Fathom design where the use of personal devices is on the rise.
Christopher Bernard, managing director, Cushman & Wakefield
Jon Basti, assistant men's lacrosse coach, University of Hartford
James Gordon, vice president of information technology, Needham Bank.

It's no secret that the use of personal smartphones, tablets and other such devices is becoming more prevalent in the workplace, especially with the increased number of remote and mobile workers in the workforce.

A recent IBM study revealed that nearly 75 percent of businesses already allow employees to connect to their networks via personal devices — a figure that is surely rising.

With benefits that include increased productivity, cost savings and 24x7 connectivity, many businesses — large and small — are in fact encouraging the practice, known as bring your own device.

With consumer-grade technology hitting the streets much more rapidly than corporate-grade, employers and their IT departments — often not even aware of all the devices being brought into the office — are racing to incorporate the latest technology.

"As business becomes more global, there is an increased need to be available outside 'normal' business hours," said Christopher Bernard, managing director at Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate agency headquartered in New York City with Connecticut offices in Hartford and Stamford. "In addition, most businesses are becoming more information driven. These components drive the need to be able to access information from anywhere."

As the technology has advanced and employees have begun to demand more access to information, Bernard says companies have responded with most supporting email, calendar and contacts on mobile devices.

"More companies are allowing other employees that don't have a 'business need' for mobile devices to use their own devices," Bernard said. "In this case, for limited additional costs, companies are gaining more productivity while providing more work/life balance."

Jon Basti, assistant men's lacrosse coach at the University of Hartford, uses his iPad for everything — word processing, e-mailing, web browsing, video review and drawing plays for scouting reports.

"It keeps me more organized," Basti said. "It has benefited me in recruiting by giving me a place to keep all my notes and then be able to access them at anytime from anywhere. It also allows me to lighten my load when I go on the road for an extended period of time because I don't have to take my laptop with me anymore."

The increased use of personal devices is also resulting in major changes for IT professionals, whose traditional roles are evolving as they rush to address increased mobile device security concerns — an area of the market expected reach $3.95 billion in global revenues by 2016 — and work to develop manageable usage guidelines.

Often the race for introducing new technology is done without thinking first about policy. The most important step to take is to develop a strategy and policy that addresses the potential risks.

James Gordon, vice president of information technology at heavily iPhone and iPad-dominated Needham Bank in Massachusetts, says IT departments are catching up but cautions that they should temper risk with reward.

"Balance the risks, spend time doing risk assessments, and understand your organizations one-, two-, and three-year goals," says Gordon. "Not everything has to be retrofitted for mobile from day one."

At Needham, where personal device usage is welcomed, the move to mobility has led to a dramatic increase in productivity.

In 2010, the bank had three mobile users who worked an average of one hour outside the office per month. This year, there are 33 users working an average of 14 hours a month.

Gordon expects significant growth and consolidation within the mobile device management market, adding that the technology surrounding mobile and security management will likely change rapidly over the next few years — and having the right people in place to handle these changes is crucial.

"It's critically important to choose a team that welcomes change and isn't afraid to adapt rapidly to new opportunities," he said. "This isn't the time to hire someone to sit back and 'watch the email server' — this space will change rapidly and evolve."

Ryan Rose, vice president of technology at Fathom — a creative, strategic and website design firm in downtown Hartford where many employees are already using iPads — agrees that planning and flexibility are keys to success.

"Enterprises need to adapt to the changing technology landscape. It is critical they choose a platform that is flexible enough to allow for fast updates and iterative development," Rose said.

The business landscape is moving exponentially faster and the technology needs to support these changing needs, says Rose.

"Mobile is still very young so there are a lot of options to choose from. Be sure to choose the solution that meets your current needs yet also offers potential future growth. Don't tie yourself too tightly to proprietary technologies that may not exist 5-10 years from now. Spend the time to find developers who focus on the mobile experience."

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