Mobile phones are here to stay and they're growing more powerful by the day. Follow these steps to gain the upper hand before employee's mobile devices take over your businesses and put it at risk.
Employees have been falling in love with devices, such as Apple's iPhone. Increasingly, they are using them to generate and store corporate information whether you have authorized them to or not. "Cell phone management has become a huge problem for many companies," noted Jack E. Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, LLC. This change raises new security and management issues for small and midsize businesses, so what steps can IT managers take to make sure that these devices do not overwhelm them?
Employees have been using mobile phones for years to contact coworkers, suppliers, and customers. What has been changing recently are the capabilities of these devices. They now include gigabytes of storage and powerful processing functions. Consequently, the volume of company data that is being stored on them has been rising. Companies need to make sure that they understand what employees have already put on their phones. They need to conduct a mobile phone audit, so they have a management starting point.
Step 2: Determine Your Security Needs
With mobile phones, companies can no longer keep information within the corporate walls. Because data is moving off site, they need to put security checks in place. Not all of types of data are created equal, so one needs to examine what information is on the phone and determine its sensitivity. Employees, such as programmers and facility managers, typically house information that is not hypersensitive. If their smartphones are lost or stolen, the resulting hassle amounts to reconstructing some data, ensuring the wireless service is discontinued, and buying a replacement device. Salespersons, executives, and financial and human resource personnel work with confidential information. They need to use a complex-password, encrypt data in transit, and include a remote wipe feature in case the device falls into someone's hands.
Step 3: MatchSecurity Features To Your Needs
"The level of security available with different smartphones can vary dramatically," noted Phillip Redman, research vice president at Gartner Inc. Research in Motion's BlackBerry and Microsoft Windows Mobile devices were designed from the ground up to support business level security functions. These products support items, such as multitasking features, so security checks can run in background. In effect, they are able to support PC-like security features, such as virus scanning and adware tracking. Companies can put policies in place, such as banning certain types of traffic, and have the phones enforce them. Products, such as Apple's iPhone, Google Android, Nokia Symbian, and Palm Pre, do not offer much functionality in these areas.
Step 4: Start With Low Hanging Fruit
Once appropriate security functions are in place, where should a company start to take advantage of mobile features? Most individuals have been working with email and calendaring systems, so that is a good spot. By entering calendaring information via a mobile device, employees can make connections more quickly. For instance, they can use a presence feature to see if someone is available and then set up a multi-person audio conference as needed.
Step 5: Move To More Sophisticated Applications
After a company has a good understanding of the basic functions that mobile phones and smartphones offer, it is ready to move to the next phase. The major benefits of mobility comes when it is integrated into daily business operations, so employees can make more timely decisions. This step requires that application vendors extend their product capabilities down to mobile phones, something just about all applications have been doing in the last few years. While not all applications are as robust as users may like at this point, companies do have a growing number of choices when looking to leverage their applications and handheld devices.
Mobile phones are no longer a consumer centric device. Steadily, they have making their way into small and midsize businesses. Now, these companies need to take sure a few steps in order to maximize the impact of these devices on their businesses.
Paul Korzeniowski is a Sudbury, Mass.-based freelance writer who has been writing about networking issues for two decades. His work has appeared in Business 2.0, Entrepreneur, Investor's Business Daily, Newsweek, and InformationWeek.