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Adapting to Personal Technology

Who knew that there would come a time when you cannot go anywhere with a personal computer in your pocket? Nokia Lumina, Galaxy S, Kindle Fire and the iPhone 4S all help us to not only find our coffee shop but sometimes to pay for your cappuccino and biscotti, too. How does someone managing a technology department keep the corporation working smoothly with this avalanche of personal technology? My personal favorite is to ignore it, but I have been told a better approach is to try to welcome them into the fold while making them fit into corporate policy.

Our corporate phone policy started on stone tablets when cellular devices were rare, expensive and weighed as much as a stone tablet. We hand these radio wave handcuffs to key staff so they can be on call at any time while the company picks up the bill. Later we switched to the million button business version to focus on email and calendars but they were still rare and spendy. Businesses were setting the direction of technology development because consumers could not afford it. And then came the iPhone, Android, tablets and it appears that consumer devices will be dictating technology use for the foreseeable future. Sorry, BlackBerry.

The key to a good mobile device policy is to ask, “if I were crafting this for the first time, what would our device support look like?” Does our policy still work today? Nearly everyone carries a cell phone and it is safe to say that for even our reimbursed devices are used significantly for personal use. Is it reasonable to consider the possibility that an employee carrying a cell phone is part of their expenses much like buying clothing that meets corporate dress code? Perhaps. Or maybe we should expand the expense to all exempt staff for client availability. Maybe. Then there is the issue of the device itself. Why limit the thinking to just a phone? Tablets, Google Voice, laptops and an iPod Touch all force us to re-define what should be required to be available.

I kid myself into believing that we do not have the definitive answer to these questions because it is ever changing. Who knew our phones today would know we are driving by a QFC and nag us to get some milk? (They tell me this is progress.) Corporations are often the joke of the party because we are so late to react to technology, but it takes time to switch our policies from business devices to personal ones. That stone tablet Motorola phone used purely for business phone calls has become a computer that is desired as much for Instagram and Facebook as it is for accepting a business meeting. We really have to think through how best to meet client needs while making them secure to adjust corporate policy to match this new frontier.

Today, we allow personal devices to connect to our email system including iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices which allow our work force to use the technology and software that best meets their needs. Each person must sign an agreement stating the expectations while we also have policies that take confidential information into account and various security settings were enacted on our servers. We have a Wi-Fi network (on optional network) in all of our offices that staff have unlimited use of to be able to connect with any gadget they choose. So far it has been a nice compromise of allowing our employees to use their new iPad for getting emails and taking notes but also defining acceptable use.

Tomorrow – who knows. Maybe we will pay for every personal device in the office. Perhaps we will abandon reimbursement entirely. Or it could be that everyone will be wearing those wacky electronic Google Glasses. I know our employees will continue to gravitate toward exciting new consumer technology and we will do our best to enjoy the challenge of making them useful and secure for getting a little work done in-between posting Instragram’s to Facebook.

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