01/08/2011

By Paul Donovan, NETGEAR UK Country Manager

Along with their company laptop and mobile phone, my staff also have personal smartphones which are brought into the office and connect to our network. In addition, several employees have their own iPads and those in the marketing department use iMac’s at work. But I know it’s not just the NETGEAR office that faces the challenge of managing multiple work and personal devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets connecting to our network. Personal devices are making their way into the workplace of every small and medium businesses throughout the UK and this trend has been magnified by the expectations of a new generation of workers.

According to Gartner, sales of tablet computers such as Apple's iPad, the Motorola Zoom and the Samsung Galaxy Tab will more than quadruple from 15m worldwide in 2010 to 70m in 2011. IDC predicts that smartphones sales are also set to rocket: 472 million of the devices will be shipped in 2011. As most of these tablets and smartphones are being bought by individuals and not companies, it’s a clear indicator that certain pieces of consumer technology are now better than the technology provided by businesses. It can be more creative, more flexible and, most importantly, consumer technology is no longer a luxury item affordable only by an elite few. The technology is generally simpler, faster, more user friendly and often more reliable that the technology provided by businesses, which means that more and more people want to use this technology while at work.

While many IT managers and business owners may have nightmares about personal devices invading the office and connecting to the network, they needn’t. The opportunities for SMBs by allowing their employees’ own smart, mobile devices into the workplace outweigh the threats.

Technology can be a key differentiator for many businesses; it could be the difference in a business growing and prospering or even surviving. Mobile devices allow employees to be more innovative and produce better work. They help people to be more efficient and therefore help drive growth and success for their business. Indeed a recent survey from Citrix Online found that businesses where employees use their own devices increased their productivity by 30 per cent. Recruitment and retention is a key issue for many SMB owners. Businesses need to attract the best people to their organisation if they are to grow and prosper. Allowing employees to use their own devices ensures a boost to morale and also allows companies to attract high calibre people in the first instance. Also if employees bring their own devices into the office SMB owners won’t need to invest in technology and therefore it’ll result in huge cost savings for the organisation.

Of course, there are a number of issues which businesses must be aware of if they are to allow a flood of smart devices into their office and onto their network. The devices can result in a number of difficulties for businesses in relation to the speed and security of their network. Smartphones and tablets are almost entirely reliant on a wireless internet connection to function properly. This means organisations need to be prepared and ensure they have a robust network in place so the devices can get online and their employees can actually work. Networks will be put under strain as the volume of high bandwidth traffic passing across these connections will get exponentially bigger as more and more devices connect. Also these devices are not just connecting to the network and remaining unused, they will be performing data intensive tasks, such as streaming YouTube videos, sending emails, downloading documents and accessing cloud-based applications.

Questions need to be asked by businesses about whether the network supporting these devices is fast enough to cope with these data hungry tasks and the large number of devices connecting at the same time. The network can be adapted to prevent personal devices flooding it and consuming excessive bandwidth by introducing simple quality of service policies. This will help segregate traffic and also ensure business critical applications that are reliant on the network can still function properly.

Perhaps the biggest concern for SMB owners and IT managers when it comes to allowing their workers’ ]b]personal devices[/b] onto the network is security. Many worry that a device could be infested with malware and that this will spread onto the network and infect it. The ramifications of this can be extremely serious. Productivity can be affected, the computing infrastructure may go down and money can be lost. Unfortunately, it’s simply not viable for businesses to gain control over every single one of their employees’ personal devices and start to safeguard them with their array of antivirus software. However, the network - and therefore the business - can be protected by running antivirus and content filtering at the gateway to prevent malware hitting the organisation.

By allowing employees to use their own devices, businesses are empowering them to work to the best of their ability. Worries about a network meltdown or security breach can be easily resolved with the introduction of some simple policies. Business owners and IT managers might need to relinquish control of the end points and accept that this battle has already been lost. Instead they should focus their efforts on providing the most reliable, affordable and simple network infrastructure they can to deliver robust and secure access for any device, application, or piece of software an employee chooses to use. The money spent on new IT infrastructure should not be seen as a wasted cost upon the business, but an investment and something that improves competitiveness. If the company adopts this approach, they can attract the best talent, enable and empower their employees to work to their full potential, and ultimately achieve greater success.

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