Fresno law firm embraces BYOD [The Fresno Bee]
(Fresno Bee, The (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 13--Smartphones and tablets are becoming so commonplace, more people are using their own personal devices as de facto tools for the workplace.
The growing trend, widely known as BYOD -- shorthand for "bring your own device" -- recently landed Fresno law firm Dowling Aaron a mention on the cover of the Business section of the national USA Today newspaper.
The story reported how businesses are dealing with more employees handling potentially sensitive work email and documents on phones and other devices that also store personal photos, music or bank information.
Greg Miskulin, an attorney and the firm administrator for Dowling Aaron, said the company didn't set out to establish a culture of smartphone-wielding attorneys and professionals using their own devices for work.
"When smartphones hit the market, maybe three or four of the attorneys had them," Miskulin said. "As they became more commonplace, people started latching onto them. BYOD was an evolution."
Dowling Aaron's director of information technology, Darin Adcock, said it makes sense for the company to allow its 45 attorneys to use whatever model of phone they're comfortable with and that they already own, whether it's an Apple iPhone or one of the multitude of Android smartphones.
"As attorneys come from other law firms or as people change jobs, one person might be familiar with the iPhone, but the other might be a Droid guy for life," Adcock said. "Instead of us forcing them to learn how to use an iPhone or a Droid or a Windows phone, and to be productive on something they're not comfortable with, they can use what they already know."
Dowling Aaron typically reimburses its users for the portion of their personal smartphone data plans that they use for work.
The law firm did get a quote for what it would cost to outfit its attorneys with company-issued smartphones for work, Adcock said. "But no one wants to carry two phones," he said.
"It just didn't make sense, knowing that we have some hard-core users of different types of phones. If I tell one of the partners who's an Apple fanboy that he has to carry a Droid, he'll just throw it in the river."
A 2012 survey of nearly 900 corporate executives in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Germany by Decisive Analytics revealed that more than 75% of their companies allowed employees to use their personal devices for work.
The survey showed that about one-third of the portable devices being used by employees for work were employee-owned. Of smartphones being used in the workplace, about half were employee-owned.
Among the factors cited by executives in the survey as driving their BYOD decisions were:
-- Improved mobility or the ability to work off-site or while traveling, 43%.
-- Not having to carry or maintain a second device, 13.6%.
-- BYOD is an employee benefit, 10.5%.
"The majority of respondents (62.9%) agreed that permitting employee-owned devices at work positively influences the employee's view of the company," Cheryl Harris, Decisive Analytics' chief research officer, wrote in the survey report, "and nearly half (47.5%) said that it positively influences the customers' view of the company."
Despite the advantages of BYOD, companies walk something of a tightrope to balance employee freedom with keeping corporate or client information secure.
As attorneys began using smartphones a few years ago at Dowling Aaron, an obvious need emerged to make sure that the often-confidential client information they dealt with remained safe.
"What happens if someone loses their phone " Miskulin asked. "We kept our eyes open looking for a solution. We could tell people they had to have a password on their phone, but we had no way of knowing if they were complying.
"We kind of held our breath, like most people do now."
Dowling Aaron uses AirWatch, one of a growing number of "mobile device management" services businesses can use to manage the security of smartphones, tablets, laptop computers and other electronic devices used for work by their employees, whether the devices are owned by the company or by the employee.
Such services let subscribing companies require mandatory passwords on devices, track their location and, in a worst-case scenario of a lost or stolen phone, remotely "wipe" the phone's data.
That's what Adcock did after someone smashed the window of one attorney's car as he attended a funeral and stole his smartphone. The attorney called his assistant, who notified Adcock, who logged into the AirWatch system and sent a signal to the phone to delete its data.
Miskulin said the company was fortunate that the incident happened after the company began using the service. "The best scenario is that we can wipe the phone and turn it into a brick," he said.
The system also automatically clears the phone after 10 failed password attempts to gain access. "It ensures a client's data is protected at all times," Adcock said. "We know a contract's not going to get out there, or some personal communication. And some of the attorneys have their banking apps on the phone, so they have a little more peace of mind about that, too."
In addition to the USA Today story last week, Dowling Aaron has been profiled in a YouTube video by CDW, a technology consulting company, as a case study in BYOD security.
The Decisive Analytics survey showed that about half of companies where BYOD is allowed had experienced a breach of data or security from an employee's personal device accessing a corporate network. The companies' responses to such breaches included restricting data access rights, requiring the installation of security software, or revoking BYOD privileges altogether.
Still, for companies that allow BYOD, the benefits may still outweigh the risks -- if they have the right security in place.
"There are law firms out there where the BlackBerry is still very prevalent," Miskulin said. "Those attorneys have their personal phone on one hip and the company BlackBerry on the other hip."
"Here, we'd spend the money one way or the other," Miskulin said. "Everybody here has the phone they're happy with, but we still have the peace of mind of knowing that our information is protected."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, firstname.lastname@example.org or @tsheehan on Twitter.
(c)2013 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)
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