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It’s ‘Bring Your Own Device’ on Aisle 7; Just Don’t Forget to Bring Your Own Security


By Adam Stern, [email protected]

In retail, shift work and shared titles (such as “manager”) are as popular as end-caps. These days, it’s just as common for managers in a retail operation to have in hand a smartphone and a personal tablet. Great for on-the-fly communication. Not always so great for protecting a retailer’s critical data assets. According to the conventional wisdom, “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) – a business trend on a fast trajectory – might be better labeled “Bring Your Own Security Breach.” As the use of personal tablets and smartphones in business increases, organizations are seeking to strike the proper balance between employee freedom of choice and the need to protect data.

BYOD advocates believe employees can be more efficient if they use the mobile device with which they’re most familiar, but for the uber-competitive world of retailing, a data security breach could not only disrupt business but take a big bite out of sales.

Why BYOD and why now? In a word, “mobile.” The number of mobile devices under management is increasing at a “massive” 300%-plus clip, according to data from cloud provider CenterBeam. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of wireless connections nationwide grew by more than 42% to 331.6 million, based on data from CTIA-The Wireless Association. Nowhere is this embrace of wireless more evident than in text messaging; users are tapping out some 193 billion text messages each month, 10 times as many as just six years ago. Analysts at the market research firm IDC estimate that worldwide total unit shipments for smartphones and tablets will reach nearly 1.2 billion before 2012 is over, a 27% increase from just a year ago.

Mobile almost by definition blurs the line between work and home. Juniper Research estimates that 350 million employees worldwide will be using their own devices in the workplace by 2014. Gartner goes even further, calling the growth of BYOD programs “the single most radical shift in the economics of client computing for business since PCs invaded the workplace.” In Forrester Research’s view, BYOD is defining the “consumerization of IT” trend, where, increasingly, employees are determining how technology is accessed at work and what kind of equipment is “in the field.” And, not surprisingly, mobility is becoming top-of-mind for retailers of all sizes and specialties.

So BYOD is here to stay. In this challenging retail environment, as we head into the critical holiday buying season, BYOD should be valuable in promoting efficiency – and it just might promote sales and greater profitability, if done right.

BYOD offers a twist on the old adage, “trust, but verify.” In my view, retailers can integrate BYOD into their operations once they fully grasp its dimensions and once they plan ahead. They can approach BYOD as a strategic opportunity – enabling employee satisfaction and efficiency – but first, they must place the issue of data security in the cloud front and center. They also need to recognize where devices should not be brought, given existing protocols. For retailers, point-of-sale is that no man’s land. Thanks to data security compliance requirements, BYOD and POS ought not to mix, at least for now.

Leaving POS aside, then, what issues do retail enterprises large and small need to consider before implementing a BYOD policy? What does it take to maintain and protect data in a virtual environment – whether that data sits on a desktop, an iPad or a Droid? And, flipping the discussion around, how might retail operations actually benefit from BYOD?

The key to “domesticating” BYOD involves embracing the concept of Desktop-As-A-Service (DaaS), which addresses security concerns by bringing all data into a secure, remote location – allowing the flexibility and global accessibility device users want, and providing a platform that multiple devices can access. A cloud-based DaaS system can save retail enterprises money by eliminating the need to change out the software on every single device.

Desktop-as-a-Service addresses security concerns by bringing all data into the cloud and offers a viable solution for both. DaaS allows the flexibility and global accessibility that BYOD users want, and provides a platform that multiple devices can access.

The influx of personal devices and cloud hosting DaaS should be regarded as a boon for forward-thinking retailers looking to stay on the cutting edge. BYOD promises improved employee satisfaction and productivity, and a very enticing affordability in a post big-box PC world. By virtualizing the desktop via cloud hosting, chains can save money by eliminating the need to change out the software on every single device.

The ability to communicate effectively and work efficiently remains the driving force behind BYOD, from an employee perspective. While there’s no panacea for every security issue, cloud computing and DaaS offer solutions that address both current and future concerns – how data is accessed, how security protocols are controlled and automated, and where corporate data is stored.

For retailers rightly concerned about maintaining both margins and operational efficiencies, BYOD can make the sale.

Adam Stern is founder and CEO of Infinitely Virtual in Southern California, a provider of high quality and affordable virtual server technology, capable of delivering services to any type of business, via terminal servers, SharePoint servers and SQL servers He can be reached at [email protected].

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