"Consumerization of IT" is a phrase that has been tossed around a lot lately, especially as more employees bring personal mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, into the workplace.
However, the trend isn't limited to handheld devices. It also includes laptops and other traditionally consumer computing equipment being used for work. On this front, IT consumerization has been around for years, but it has only recently begun picking up steam with the advent of the cloud and the adopted worker attitude of "work anywhere, at anytime."
According to a new study from Dell KACE and Dimensional Research, which surveyed nearly 750 IT professionals, 87 percent of businesses allow employees to use their personal devices for work. Eighty percent support employee-owned smartphones, and 69 percent allow employees to bring their own laptops and desktops to the office.
On one hand, this can promote productivity in the workplace. By allowing employees to use a device and software with which they're comfortable, they may work more efficiently.
On the other hand, this proliferation of consumer devices in the office creates myriad challenges for the IT department. Not only do IT professionals have to worry about supporting a range of devices, they also have concerns about the data security implications of employee-owned hardware.
According to the Dell KACE study, 82 percent of surveyed IT professionals harbor concerns about personal devices in the workplace. Sixty-two percent are worried about network security and the possibility of unauthorized users accessing corporate information or corrupting the IT infrastructure.
"Consumer products are evolving into viable businesses tools, but according to our research, the majority of companies do not have a proper strategy in place to manage these devices, which opens them up to serious security risks," Dianne Hagglund, Dimensional Research senior research analyst, said in a press release.
This sentiment was reflected in a March 2011 study from Mformation Technologies. According to that study, more than three-quarters of surveyed CIOs from the United States stated that personal mobile devices in the workplace create "security headaches" for the IT department.
Mobile malware is obviously a growing threat for both businesses and consumers. Among the other challenges associated with the consumerization of IT are keeping track of devices and controlling who has access to what information. According to the Dell KACE report, two-thirds of respondents say they are not confident they know of all personal devices used for business. One-third said unauthorized devices and applications are used in the workplace.
Additionally, businesses may find they have trouble supporting multiple operating systems, which may now include Microsoft Windows, Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS, Apple's iOS, Google's Android and many, many more.
"Consumerization of IT is not simply a passing trend – it is the way business will be conducted on an ongoing basis, especially in the small and medium business market, so it is critical that companies put policies and standards into place to support these devices to ensure the security of corporate and intellectual property," Hagglund added.
Though more employees now expect to be able to use their personal devices in the workplace, companies should not rush to push through these policies. For example, if a company is unsure about its ability to support a certain mobile OS, it is best to wait until its security measures are as airtight as possible before allowing employees to bring such devices to work. Additionally, businesses must educate employees about data security implications of personal devices and ensure employees are doing all they can to protect corporate information.