BYOA Is the Latest in Business Trends

By | Aug 7, 2012

The BYOD movement has seen widespread use among businesses despite the security fears held by IT professionals. This trend has now evolved into a whole other beast, with employees bringing in personal applications to work too. Formally called the bring-your-own-application (BYOA) trend, the practice has received both praise and criticism from IT experts.

According to ZDNet, it seems as though BYOA will gain acceptance among employees, regardless of whether companies want to ban the activity. Of all those surveyed in a Fortinet study, 69 percent said that they were interested in creating and using their own applications, while 30 percent indicated that they would probably disobey any restrictive company policies.

Marc Brown, a consultant for security company Trustwave, believes that these statistics demonstrate the lack of control that management has over their employees. This can be attributed to the way that data is currently being stored, especially when compared to the storage methods of the past. Previously, businesses could enforce strict security policies on devices since they were preconfigured to only do work within certain parameters on the company network. Nowadays, the data can be stored on personal smartphones or on cloud-based servers. This means that private company information can be easily lost if the service provider goes out of business.

Another concern over the BYOA trend is that company data will be inputted into third-party storage applications, such as Dropbox or iCloud. IT has no control over these applications, and there is a risk that that the information will be replicated and sent elsewhere. In addition to data storage applications, IT Wire says that there is an extensive list of other productivity tools being used in the office. The most popular types include calendaring, collaboration (GoToMeetings and WebEx), voice communications (Skype), project and task management (reminders), productivity (QuickOffice Pro), multimedia, and note taking (Evernote).

Although BYOA has received harsh criticism over security concerns, some analysts believe that the benefits outweigh the risks. Karim Mohamad, head of database and technology marketing at SAP Asia-Pacific and Japan, says that mobile apps help to build a community environment among employees. It makes it easy for them to share presentations, video files and other media assets.

Moreover, not all mobile applications offer poor security measures. For example, Evernote encrypts the user's notes so that there is little risk, even if the cloud-based service is hacked and information is stolen.

Midsize businesses should approach the BYOA movement with caution, but not enforce an outright ban on personal applications. After all, the Fortinet study found that 30 percent of employees would violate these policies anyways. The best strategy for IT is to open a line of communication with their personnel, and have them report which applications they are using and what kind of data is being stored on them. This will give IT an idea about how their employees are using apps to increase productivity, and will help them to identify any potential risks to data confidentiality. The organization can then determine which applications are safe to use and provide a list of those that are approved.

Furthermore, BYOA could help businesses to save a little money. Most mobile applications are offered free of charge and receive most of their revenue through advertising. This means that business-friendly productivity tools and data storage can be obtained at very little cost. If all apps adopt security measures like the encryption used on Evernote, then IT might finally see apps that are both productive and safe. Besides, the transition to BYOA seems inevitable; it is up to IT to embrace the benefits and learn to control the risks. Bown adds, "Closing the door on BYOA will stifle innovation while learning from it can help make enterprise security stronger."

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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