Your Reading List & recommendations

Are business users really that different to consumers?



Jonathan Undrell, Managed Mobility Specialist at O2, looks at how the last few months have changed the way we define business users and consumer mobile users.

Last year I wrote about how the lines are blurring between business vs consumer mobile users, and about how businesses might approach personal use of business devices (and vice versa). I thought it would be interesting to revisit this issue, and see how the events of 2020 have influenced the way we use devices.

You might remember the days when it was easy to differentiate between business users and consumers when it came to technology? Your company probably issued you with a laptop, phone, pager or another device that you were told was for ‘business use only’. 

The idea was that these devices would be accessing the organisation’s network and so it was only appropriate to lock them down to avoid security challenges. You wouldn’t want an employee to install an application that might cause the business a problem, after all.

Everything changed when, as consumers, we started owning laptops and smartphones as capable, often more capable, than the ones issued to us at work. Digital adoption has given us immediate access to resources and apps for any conceivable requirement, wherever we are and whenever we want to.

I remember visiting a regional Fire and Rescue Service last year, where I witnessed this consumer capability for myself. The fire officers relied on older style Blackberry devices for communication, but needed third party applications on their personal smartphones to translate and interpret the hazard warning symbols on the side of tankers. 

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

Nobody wants 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.  

The new normal in 2020 

When I wrote about this dilemma last year, I suggested that organisations take a more flexible working approach to their mobile strategy. I hadn’t realised, of course, that less than a year later they would need to change the way they do business entirely in order to keep going.

This year it has been incredible to witness how many people have been able to stay at home whilst still networking, communicating and collaborating effectively with customers and colleagues. For many, remote working would not have been possible without relying on their home broadband, as well as the phones, tablets and laptops they could call into service.

I think it’s fair to say that many of the concerns that businesses had about using personal devices and applications have proved unfounded. In fact, we’ve been very grateful for them. So perhaps it’s time to embrace the technology that your employees already own? Here are three ways to encourage them to use their mobile devices responsibly and productively at work: 

1. Give users a stake 

If we are to retain our best talent, we need to deliver the employee experience, and that includes recognising that we all work and play in different ways. There’s  is no single smartphone set up that works for everyone, and trying to impose one will only disenfranchise a user. 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 when remote working? Is there really a problem with letting users access internet banking, check Twitter or use a fitness application?

As a mobile-led organisation, anyone that needs a mobile phone for business use at O2 is given one, 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 flexible working 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 business technologies 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.


All articles


Public sector

Safe & secure


Tech advice

Work smarter