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Smart Policies for Smartphones in the Workplace

Image via Rangizzz/

New college graduates entering the workforce this year may have gotten their first iPhone in high school and their first email address in middle school. While the class of 2007 used laptops for research in their dorm rooms, this year's graduates could fact-check.

Surely, these new hires will have different expectations for the technology employers will provide and how it will be used.

Though many businesses have detailed use-policies for technology that they provide, few explicitly address the BYOD (bring your own device) activities that many employees – not just recent hires – practice.

Some private-sector organizations and government agencies restrict the Web sites that computers on their networks can visit. Facebook, YouTube, and even personal-email sites may fit under that rubric.

The reasons for that restriction include both a productivity rationale (i.e. employees should be doing their work, not checking up on their friends' activities) as well as a concern for data security, network integrity, bandwidth issues arising from data-intensive applications, or damage to the company's reputation through the misuse of social media. But the conversation around employees' use of their own technology cannot be grounded in an organization's control either of connectivity technology nor of the network it uses.

With respect to connectivity, IT departments have two interrelated functions: (1) to monitor network and end-user technologies so that they can (2) help troubleshoot, repair, or replace dysfunctional technology.

However, when employees come to the office with their own smartphones or tablets, they are using both a network and a device that are outside a company's traditional scope of control. Because of that critical difference, the tone and terms of a personal-technology use policy will be very different than the policy that governs the use of official technology.

Whether or not an organization embarks on a BYOD program, it must address four topics with specific regard to employees' use of their own connectivity technology (including both the network and the device). I'll explore each of these issues in depth in following articles:

Data security: Employees may not even understand how third parties access the data on their devices, much less how to choose applications that will not compromise the security of information they store. Policy guidelines should be tailored to individuals' job requirements, allowing for maximum flexibility while maintaining rigorous security.

Connecting personal technology to employer networks or devices: The functioning and integrity of an organization's network and devices is an even more critical concern than the security of employees' devices. To maintain adequate security, it is essential to have clear and consistently-applied rules governing whether and how employees can connect to an organization's network and devices.

Productivity: Reputation is not the only currency that can be squandered through online activity. Actual currency can be lost through lost time. It is important to tie the policies governing the use of technology to a larger discussion of productivity.

Acceptable online activity during work hours: Appropriately, it was a film about the founding of Facebook that popularized the line, "The internet is written in pen, not pencil." What employees say online, especially during business hours, may reflect on their employers, rightly or wrongly.

Graduates of class of 2012 have always been their own sysadmins.

Gadi Ben-Yehuda (Twitter: @GBYehuda) is Director for Innovation and Social Media at the IBM Center for the Business of Government.This is the first in a five-part series examining the issues that governments and organizations need to address in the absence of a BYOD policy, originally published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government

(Image via Rangizzz/

Gadi Ben-Yehuda is the Director of Innovation and Social Media for the IBM Center for The Business of Government. Previously, he was a Web Strategist for the District of Columbia's Office of the Chief Technology Officer. He has taught creative, expository, and Web writing for more than 10 years to university students, private-sector professionals, and soldiers. He has an MFA in poetry from American University, has taught writing at Howard University, and has worked in Washington, DC, for nonprofits, lobbying organizations, Fleishman-Hillard Global Communications, and Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.

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