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Bring your own device, be your own boss

LOOKING at the world through a straw could give you the impression that social networks, self-employment, mobile working, bring your own device, big data and the cloud are all independent developments. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are symptomatic of the speed of technological development, societal change and the search for sustainability and stable solutions.

Getting a clear picture means contemplating business, society and the uptake of technology. Change is one of the few certainties in life, and the way people embrace this is difficult to predict. Today the estimated ‘dwell time’ of managers is two and a half years, with employees around five. We change our mobile phones at 18-month intervals, tablets every two years and laptops two and a half years. Our apps, downloads and contacts have all become a continuum of exponential growth.

For the individual, this is empowering, but many businesses see these developments as an unknown threat. Like it or not, all these elements are becoming key tools of global commerce, business, education, healthcare and society.

Traditionally, business has pushed change to the advantage of operations, but not necessarily the workforce. We are now seeing a reversal, as those with technological prowess challenge old models. At the simplest level, they move work to their personal laptop because that is where they are most effective. At a more sophisticated level, some employees use clouds to affect their data manipulations, undetected by their companies. But more ominously, social networking is possibly the biggest of the hidden tools, as Wikipedia and Google become the sources of all knowledge.

IT and security departments worry about the obvious risks while downplaying the huge upside. At management levels, the attitudes tend to span confused to complicit. Many managers are now eager users of tablets and smart phones on companies’ ‘banned list’. So what should a business do – embrace or eradicate?

Every organisation is different and has to adjust accordingly. At one extreme are producers of concrete, steel and commodities. Here, order is a necessity, as is automation on a grand scale. Everything is known, with slow change in range, methods, and workforce. The potential for individual IT change is low and regimentation is necessary to ensure consistency. If BYOD is to be employed, it is in the arena of marketing and sales as well as senior management.

In contrast, we have services and information industries where change is the norm. Transient workers, part-timers and consultants are the new normal in this type of environment, and BYOD offers advantages to company and people alike, which is a huge cost saving: no IT department and people buy their own devices. This fuels innovation while giving full-time employment to a minimum number of people. Education costs are also nulled while social networking adds further degrees of freedom and unseen value.

So what of security? Firewalls are ineffective against the determined and the insider risk is bigger. New ways of working trump old ways and improve almost everything, including security, provided operations change. Decentralising networks, dispersing the workforce, using non-standard device sets and security software, as well as having short information half-lives make these operations difficult targets.

In this environment, it is in the interest of every individual to ensure security. All the company has to do is to buy server and security packages. No equipment cost and no software licensing. Let the workforce bear the cost and tap a fast-growing market of mobile workers dedicated to their survival as well as yours. At the same time, benefit from a global market of innovators who will keep you informed about developments and practices. And as the world continues to speed up, these advantages only improve while the old ways see increasing risk and disadvantage.

Peter Cochrane is an IT?consultant and former chief technologist at BT

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