As consumers become more familiar with devices and software traditionally reserved for the workplace, IT will have to establish best practices and stringent rules to maintain efficient and safe employee operations. Mobile device management (MDM) software exists to help IT monitor and manage how employees use personal smartphones and tablets for remote work. However, no magical tool can help IT control how employees use Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products in the workplace.
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For example, cloud storage and file sharing tools such as Box and Dropbox, and document creation tools such as Google Docs and Microsoft Word are easily accessible cloud tools that people bring to the workplace every day. How your company chooses to handle these disparate tools depends on what it is you're trying to accomplish. You can A) restrict usage of software that doesn't align with your company's philosophy or B) let employees choose their own cloud products based on their own preferences and experience.
The latter phenomenon, which has been dubbed Bring-Your-Own-Cloud (BYOC), brings with it a specific set of challenges. I spoke with Shyam Oza, Senior Product Marketing Manager at AvePoint, a cloud migration specialty company, about how companies can prepare to implement their own BYOC policies.
Challenge 1: Data Security
"From a broad perspective, BYOC can be a blessing and a curse," said Oza. "Box, Dropbox, and OneDrive can be great for sharing a registry with your family, and uploading files and photos. But what worries large organizations is that it's just as easy to drag and drop something like sensitive intellectual property and pre-release content [into those apps at work]."
With business-procured software, companies can tighten restrictions and monitor usage. Organizations can mandate multifactor authentication (MFA), data encryption, complex passwords, watermark documents, and even remote data wipe. However, when used without IT oversight, these tools limit the company's ability to control where content goes. You also lose visibility into what happens to the content once it leaves the firewall, and how it can be safeguarded once it's been uploaded to an employee's cloud account.
Solution: "IT needs to be directly integrated with a line of business," said Oza. "They need to be in front of the business evangelizing the technology they prefer…and then hopefully trying to settle on a standard."
For example, if 80 percent of the company uses Dropbox and 20 percent of the company uses another storage and sharing platform, the company should offer lunch-and-learns that encourage the minority to convert to the majority-preferred system. "Unless you're willing to mandate a particular tool (in which case you're not actually practicing BYOC) you have to pitch the value proposition of your company's preferred tool," said Oza. "It's not like you can walk into someone's cube and say 'You have to use this tool.' You have to explain to them that it's easier to use or ask them what the pains are that they're having so you can approach it from a problem-solving perspective rather than being a dictator."
At the end of the day, IT knows that there's an acceptable level of risk for any employee-accessible data. Laptops go missing. Phones get stolen. But, if you can convert as many people as possible to your preferred system, you can keep the minority happy by not completely removing your BYOC policy.
Challenge 2: Collaboration
With hundreds or thousands of people across your business using multiple platforms for online collaboration, there's bound to be a scenario in which the need to access data quickly becomes more important than your employees' preferred software. Think about it: Your West Coast sales team wants to transfer a file to your East Coast marketing team. Since both teams are on different file sharing systems, before the file can be accessed, someone will have to create a new account and then learn to navigate a new system on the fly.
What about the dreaded client meeting? What happens when one employee creates a presentation, has an emergency, and can't attend? You might wind up with someone else who isn't familiar with the presentation format clumsily trying to access and present the file, all while the client stares down at their watch.
Solution: "One of the main issues is IT keeps out of a lot of the work-stream," said Oza. "IT can't just wait for people to complain. IT needs to intimately understand the business process and business workflow to insert themselves in the middle to try to convince employees to use the same tools, or make them aware of the potential issues they may come across."
If employees are cognizant to watch out for issues before they arise, then they can set the appropriate contingencies in order to ensure operations never suffer. So, if you know that two of your potential presenters use different presentation tools, IT can train both presenters in both tools before the big client meeting. No matter what happens, the presentation will then go off without a hitch.
"Here within Avepoint, we were desperately trying to encourage our sales team to update content into OneDrive for Business instead of sending emails or adding to Dropbox," explained Oza. "Any time we got an email that had an attachment, we'd respond back with a photo that said 'Upload this to SharePoint or the kitten gets it.'…A few weeks later, we started getting emails saying 'Look, I shared via SharePoint.' It was a funny way to solve a problem."
Challenge 3: Integration
Most of the issues I discussed in Challenges 1 and 2 are specific to smaller companies with no set IT policies. However, in slightly larger companies with operations across multiple offices and regions, it's possible that IT is functioning in silos rather than as one global team. In that case, you'll find that multiple versions of business software such as customer relationship management (CRM) and expense management are being used, either because someone prefers a specific system or because the regional offices never got together to decide on one tool. This is a huge issue that may ultimately need to be remedied by someone at the C-level, possibly by strong-arming the company into picking one system.
However, if your company wants to give specific offices and even departments the freedom to choose whichever system they prefer (or you want tools that connect to other kinds of software designed for specific employee tasks), then there are ways to ensure your data doesn't get siloed.
Solution: "IT has to make decisions to invest in technology providers who are open and willing to connect [with third-party systems]…The solutions you should be shortlisting [when making buying decisions] are the ones with the most robust connectors," said Oza.
This includes picking systems with open application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable your developers to create connectors that don't organically exist between two pieces of software. If you don't have developers on staff, then you should look for tools that offer the most integrations with your legacy software. For that matter, look for integrations with any software your employees have decided to use on their own.