"Arguing" with employees who want to use their own personal devices in the enterprise "is a losing battle," according to Michael Finneran, a principal at the mobile consulting firm dBrn Associates, who spoke at UBM TechWeb's recent Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando, Fla. Still, you might expect that insurers and other financial services providers, which must carefully and judiciously adhere to data security regulations, would be willing to fight that battle to the bitter end.
Not so, says John Herrema, SVP of corporate strategy for Good Technology, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based provider of mobile device management software whose clients include Pittsburgh-based health insurer Highmark. "Especially in areas like financial services and healthcare, if you can boost your mobility rate but not actually have to spend the company's own money to do it, you've created extreme productivity benefits," Herrema says.
[Is "Bring Your Own Device" the new standard? To read more about this and 10 other burning insurance questions that will be answered in 2012, check out I&T's 2012 Insurance Technology Outlook.]
For technologists who are on the fence about bring-your-own-device, or those with nervous colleagues in the security or compliance departments, Insurance & Technology has found three under-the-radar benefits of BYOD that should help alleviate at least some of your concerns:
1. It's Not Just About Smartphones
It's understandable that some companies might be nervous about granting employees access to their networks from personal smartphones, which have a tendency to be left in bars or cabs, dropped into bodies of water, or fooled with by curious children. But a true BYOD strategy encompasses a wide range of home-based devices that, if leveraged, can offer a large amount of flexibility to the employee.
"We see cases where people are connected to their work with more than one device, and that may increase the number of virtual desktops," says Ilan Paretsky, VP of marketing for Ericom, a Closter, N.J.-based provider of virtual desktop software. "You might one day connect from your desktop PC, the other day it's your laptop in a cafe, the next day it might be from an older machine at a family gathering."
By not locking users into one offsite machine and instead letting them choose which platform works for them, companies can realize major savings and efficiencies, adds Good Technology's Herrema. For example, certain meetings could benefit from the use of a tablet, a smartphone could be sufficient for a trip, and home computer could help in case of a sick day.
"When you get down to it, what makes it so great is, the end user decides what form factor works for them, and the company doesn't have to make a choice," Herrema explains. "At some point these distinctions start to become mostly arbitrary."
2. The Mobile Browser Can Be Useful
No matter which devices employees are connecting with, they likely all have one thing in common — a built-in web browser. Enabling robust connections to enterprise systems through the increasingly sophisticated browsers available on today's mobile devices offers a point of access that won't fall behind operating system changes.
"For most use cases, we feel that the browser-based client is good enough," says Ericom VP of software development Dan Shappir. "My personal take is that HTML5 clients going forward will become the norm, not the exception. The advantage of having a solution that you don't need to configure or update is significant."
3. Employees Are 'Always On'
In the pre-mobile world, shutting down the office desktop computer at 5 p.m. Friday largely disconnected employees until they returned to work 9 a.m. Monday morning. But in the fast-moving world of financial services, the sad-but-true fact is that access to networks could be required at any time.
"One of the other challenges our clients were seeing is that employees were turning off the company device at 6 and not carrying it around on the weekend," Herrema says. "To maximize productivity, the key was still supporting the personal device the user prefers."