Top 10 Consumer Apps/Devices Infiltrating the Business ...

Sep 21, 2010

Robert McGarvey

The war is over and, in case you missed it, IT lost. The once ferocious attempts to guard the corporate perimeters against unapproved devices and applications is sputtering to an end because, frankly, all but myopic IT diehards recognize this is battle that's already over.

“Workers are adopting the tools they believe will help them get their jobs done,” said Chris King, a spokesperson at security firm Palo Alto Networks. He added: “It’s foolish for an IT executive to stand in the way. The benefits cannot be denied and besides the workers will just figure out a way around you anyway.”

Gary Curtis, chief technology strategist at Accenture, corroborated this: “Employees absolutely want to choose what technologies they use in the workplace. In fact, an Accenture survey of the millennial generation, those aged 18 to 27, revealed that one-third of the respondents said they expect not only to use the computer of their choice, but also to access the technology applications of their choice -- 32 percent and 34 percent respectively.”

And it will only get worse. In research conducted for Unisys, workers expressed a staggering employee willingness to pay for their devices if they got to choose them. Reports Unisys: “Nearly one-third (32 percent) said that they would be willing to pick up the full cost. Twenty-one percent said that they would pay up to half of the cost, and another 21 percent said that they would fund up to 30 percent of the cost.”

This is not just hypothetical, it is already happening. Ahmed Datoo, VP of Marketing for Zenprise, which develops tools to manage enterprise mobile devices, said that perhaps caused by tight budgets and the recession more businesses are actively encouraging employees to bring their own devices to work, especially mobile phone and tablet computers.

That might save money but it raises security issues. For instance, employees understand their employer will wipe their BlackBerry if they are terminated. But wiping their iPhone with its personal photos, IMs, music library? Not so fast. There are real problems raised by the consumerization of IT, in other words, but it is happening regardless. (Zenprise and its competitors are deploying selective-wipe tools to zero in only on business-owned data.)

So, what devices should you be alert to? Here’s a round-up of the top 10 devices/tools tagged by security experts as most likely to be snuck into enterprise, with or without IT’s okay:

iPhone - Probably public enemy No.1 as senior-level executives have bought iPhones, then demanded IT support them. What are you going to say besides, yes, sir?

iPad - “A huge topic of conversation,” said Datoo, but not that much of a security worry because its ability to interface with enterprise grade apps is limited.

Mac computers - A surprise on the list but as Apple picks up iPhone and iPad users, some of them want to also use Apple computers, said security firm Safend's VP of Product Management, Edy Almer. He pointed to surveys that show as many as two-thirds of large enterprises reporting they expected to see big jumps in Mac deployment.

Android phones – These devices continue to win enterprise fans, said Jason Wong, Product Marketing manager for Antenna Software, a developer of mobility tools. But, Android, as currently configured, has less built-in enterprise grade protection than do iPhones and BlackBerries. Companies may need to build out their own Android security enhancements.

Skype - The go-to favorite of road warriors calling home but now more IT execs report increased Skype use inside the company. Sometimes this is driven by department managers who want to push down expenses. There's also Google Voice.

Google Talk - Or pretty much any other IM tool. Increasingly essential to millennials, who may prefer IM over email, certainly over making voice calls. Every company needs a flexible IM policy, said the experts

GMail - Nowadays when employees grumble about the corporate servers (anything from lost email to delivery delays and file size limit barriers), they are likely to act, by ditching the corporate email and switching to a personal GMail account. The only way to fight back is to beef up inhouse email.

Twitter - There’s no stopping micro-blogging because even if it is blocked on desktop computers, employees can do it from mobile phones. With Twitter, the main concerns are inappropriate disclosures (revealing product secrets or violating SEC rules). Education is the cure.

Facebook - Same as for Twitter, though Facebook raises more security issues (malware camouflaged as friendly apps, for example).

Location-based services (LBS) (Foursquare, GoWallah, etc.) - “LBS are changing the social media landscape,” said Paul Liu, CIO at IT consulting firm Freeborders. But can LBS notifications themselves may reveal corporate secrets -- possibly. Employees need to know when it is better to turn these tools off.

Are all these tools potentially frightening? Do they pose security risks? You bet. But the IT mission today is to find safe ways to integrate these technologies (often with limits) into the IT infrastructure; having accepted that just saying “no” is not an option.

As a busy freelance writer for more than 30 years, Rob McGarvey has written over 1500 articles for many of the nation's leading publications―from Reader's Digest to Playboy and from the NY Times to Harvard Business Review. McGarvey covers CEOs, business, high tech, human resources, real estate, and the energy sector. A particular specialty is advertorial sections for many top outlets including the New York Times, Crain's New York, and Fortune Magazine.

Tags: Google, iPhone, iPad, Apple, Skype,

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