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Are business users consumers too?

Jonathan Undrell, Managed Mobility Specialist at Telefónica UK, considers how the lines between business and consumer mobile users are blurring

Do you remember the days when it was easy to differentiate between business users and consumers when it came to technology? When the company you worked for issued you with a laptop, phone, pager or another device that was for ‘business use only’?

It used to be the default choice for the business community to control the applications deployed to mobiles, laptops and tablets. After all, these devices would be accessing the organisation’s network and so it was only appropriate to lock them down. You wouldn’t want an employee to install an application that might cause the business a problem, after all.

How times have changed. As consumers, we own laptops and Smartphones as capable as any device that our workplace might issue to us, providing immediate access to resources and applications for virtually any requirement. Predictions vary, but by 2020, we are expected to own 6.58 connected devices each, resulting in about 50 billion connected devices in total.

I witnessed this consumer capability for myself when I visited a regional Fire and Rescue Service recently. The Fire Officers were still relying on older style Blackberry devices for communication but had installed third party applications on their personal Smartphones in order to translate and interpret the hazard warning symbols on the side of tankers.

On the face of it this should be fine, and we might applaud the officers for their ingenuity. But it raises an important concern. Who verifies the accuracy of the mobile app being used? And if you make business decisions based on data from an application installed on a personal device, who takes responsibility if that data is incorrect?

We wouldn’t want to discourage employees from using technology inventively, as in this example, but we do need to keep our data and our networks safe, secure and compliant. In short, it is time for organisations to take a more flexible approach to their mobile strategy.

Here are three ways to encourage your employees to use their mobile devices responsibly and productively at work:

1. Give users a stake

We should recognise that we all work and play in different ways, and there is no single smartphone set up that works for everyone. I realised this recently, when I had to borrow my teenage daughter’s phone for a day. I couldn’t find or do anything I wanted. But for her, it’s exactly how she wants it to be, and who am I to argue? Perhaps it’s time to let your people work with their phone or tablet the way that suits them rather than you?

2. Allow responsible personal use

It may be a work device, but do you really need to stop your employees from installing productivity apps like train and bus timetables, satellite navigation, or car parking booking tools? Is there really a problem with letting users access internet banking, check Twitter or use a fitness application?

As a mobile-led organisation, anybody that needs a phone for business use at O2 are given their own mobile phone, which can be used for personal use or as a completely separate work phone.  We understand that our employees work differently; some prefer to have just one phone, especially if they spend a lot of time travelling around the country visiting stores for example, while others choose to separate their work and personal phones.

3. Protect the device without being intrusive

With flexibility comes responsibility. It is perfectly reasonable to insist upon two-factor authentication (2FA) security for applications that access sensitive business or customer data. But for the mobile devices themselves we are increasingly seeing them shipped with biometric authentication, and this should prove more reliable than any individual’s ability to devise an appropriate password.

The bottom line is that no IT manager wants to see their organisation’s employees juggling between personal and business owned devices during the working day. I have seen for myself some of the business and productivity benefits that come from giving users a personal investment in their business devices. It’s perfectly possible to manage them securely whilst simultaneously giving users access to many consumer applications.

For me, the reason organisations struggle to contain personal smartphone use is that they control too forcefully what happens on their business devices. It’s important to recognise that the moment one of your employees is motivated to use a personal device for business means, you’ve lost control.


At O2 we understand best practice and we monitor the latest trends in protecting corporate data on mobile devices. We have a fully qualified team who can advise and guide you to implement your organisation’s mobile technology effectively and securely.

You can connect with me via LinkedIn.



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