While many large organisations see smartphones, tablets and employee-owned devices in the workplace as inevitable, the majority are lagging in providing employees with more than basic (email/calendar) mobile applications. This shortfall in support for employee mobility is driving employees to download unauthorised apps (BYO apps) to help them do their job, even though doing so may be grounds for dismissal, a recent study by Unisys confirms.
The 2012 Australian Consumerisation of IT study, which first polled 307 employees and then surveyed 79 business and IT decision makers, showed 42 per cent of Australian employees said they had downloaded unauthorised mobile apps or PC software.
The most common reason given for doing so -- cited by 63 per cent of respondents -- was that they needed it for work purposes and their employer didn't provide an alternative. Employees said that they use these apps to conduct work with customers, partners and/or suppliers, not just for personal reasons or to communicate with each other.
Aside from personal email apps and websites, the most common apps downloaded by Australian employees were video conferencing tools such as Skype or FaceTime (33 per cent of respondents), file sharing such as Box or Dropbox (29 per cent), and chat tools such as Microsoft Messenger or Google Talk (25 per cent). According to Unisys A/NZ technology consulting and integration services vice-president, Rob Dewar, the findings show that as part of their increased mobility, employees are increasingly seeking tools for better collaboration and customer service -- whether or not those tools are sanctioned by their employers.
"However, their behaviour is risky because an easily available app could contain malicious code and be used as a vehicle to steal data, spy or access a network. This behaviour can also lead to operational inefficiency and complicate end-user support if numerous employees are using too many different applications," Dewar said.
The survey also found that to date, the primary strategy taken by employers to manage BYO apps has been to ban them, often with harsh penalties -- 27 per cent of respondents said that they had an IT policy prohibiting the downloading of third party applications and 67 per cent said downloading unauthorised software was prohibited or even potential grounds for dismissal. "The key for security-sensitive organisations is to deliver a compelling app suite to their employees via controlled methods, such as a dedicated app store, so that users don't need to come up with workaround methods to access applications," Dewar said.
He added that these businesses should consult with their mobile workers to determine what type of apps they require, as well as define a clear set of policies on application use and an education program around the security implications of third party apps.