Challenges and Rewards of Tablets in the Workplace – Security and Mobile Collaboration

May 22, 2012
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Workers are more mobile outside the office, yes. But now workers who report to the office every day are very likely to be mobile inside the office too.

In fact, a study by the International Facility Management Association concluded, in a survey of 950 companies, 60% had “unassigned workspaces” in their offices.  Show up, unpack your stuff, and get to work wherever there is an open spot. The situation makes the portability of tablets that much more attractive for the new wave, itinerant worker.

But while the appeal of new tablets captivates even the most cautious among us, many are overlooking significant risks, including:

Internal collaboration – As virtual offices and remote workforces become the norm, we see teams accessing the latest daily operations briefings, conducting HR training, and distributing policies to mobile devices. Finance is facilitating the distribution of confidential information such as quarterly financial documents in tablet-friendly format.  But what if one tablet user, a board member or employee, leaves the company? Who owns the information on her or his tablet? Is the tablet employee owned or company owned? If it’s a personal device, how can you secure and retrieve the information on it?

In the field – When we visit engineering consultancies, we now see field workers reviewing reference designs and manuals, customer service agreements and retrieving the documents they need fast without dialing into the home office. What if their tablet is lost? Do you have the same safeguards that you have on a laptop? A home computer? What if some of that sensitive customer data is regulated and cannot be shared outside certain geographies, between different departments or with competing customers? How can you regulate document transfers?

Sales and marketing – Using tablets, sales teams are now collaborating on monthly quotas and pipeline, and distributing updated forecasts to senior management. They are accessing the latest marketing and product collateral for their sales binders, and providing customers with the latest product catalog, pricing and product availability on the spot. How are all of these documents being coordinated among teams – on the corporate file server, in a cloud, using one or a dozen apps running on a dizzying variety of new devices, all with different operating systems?

The solution to all of the above falls under mobile collaboration policy. As the saying goes, if you don’t create an effective policy, your workers will create a policy for you.
Among the most effective organizations I visit, the decision-making guidelines for a realistic, workable collaboration policy start with the following:
•    Employees must be able to securely access, sync and share their documents from any mobile device – across any platform – from laptops to SharePoint or other file servers.
•    Employees should be able to work on their documents with productivity apps they know and love – the apps that are native and appropriate to the device they are using. For example, for their tablets, they might use Quickoffice, whereas for their laptops they might use Microsoft Office.
•    End-to-end data governance is a must, along with robust document life cycle policies and reporting that includes a full auditing capability, helping to put control back in IT’s hands.
•    Look for a solution that allows them to be shared by trusted applications that are authorized by an IT administrator. Avoid solutions with VPN access, which results in too many security challenges (e.g., exposing corporate data to hackers, malware, etc.)

With these principles, you have a good starting point for ensuring your employees have clear, effective direction and your company is protecting one of its most important assets, its information.


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