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Everything you need to know about the BYOC, BYOA movement

Employees and managers should read the answers to these frequently asked questions about BYOC and BYOA before making major decisions regarding the trend.

Many workers now have multiple mobile devices for their personal and professional lives. Devices often function as both, a trend known as bring your own device (BYOD) to work. The cloud opened up the possibility for virtual versions of this practice, subsets of BYOD known as bring your own cloud (BYOC) -- using a personal cloud for work -- and bring your own application (BYOA) -- using a single personal application for work. Most "bring your own" applications are hosted in the cloud, and a cloud environment brought into the workplace often will have several applications the employee can use. Continue reading for answers to frequently asked questions about BYOC and BYOA.

Why are employees so drawn to bringing their own tools?

One pixelWhat's BYOA? Why is it happening?

BYOA and BYOC are a response to the workforce's increased physical and virtual mobility. Employees want and need to access information from different locations and devices. Personal communications, storage and collaboration tools give workers greater flexibility. Popular services include Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Dropbox, Skype and Yammer.

Employees who turn to personal cloud services and applications may also be fleeing deficient in-house applications or companywide tools, an indication that employees want and need more user-friendly applications and cloud services, according to consultant and SearchCloudApplications contributor Tom Nolle. Employees may also feel the need to switch because they want to work with a more familiar tool.

What are some advantages of the practice?

A major advantage of personal cloud tools is that employees can access work information from more locations and devices, a useful capability under many circumstances. For example, if employees returning from vacation are delayed at the airport, personal cloud services and applications allow them to work without having a work laptop on the trip.

If all employees are using their own set of tools, it can be chaotic, but it can also be a way to lower IT spending. Tom Nolle notes that personal use of many cloud storage tools, such as Google Drive, is free, but company versions have a fee.

BYOC and BYOA also offer the opportunity for employees to find one tool that performs every function they need. This can free employees from the hassle of working with problematic tools that don't address all their needs.

What are the security risks involved with BYOC and BYOA?

Anything cloud related seems to set off warning alarms for IT security people. Those concerns are not unfounded. A 2014 study conducted by Edge Strategies and sponsored by remote IT management firm LogMeIn Inc. found that IT grossly underestimated the number of unauthorized user-downloaded applications being used in their companies. IT estimated that an average of 2.8 unauthorized applications exist in their companies, but the real number is closer to 28.

The cloud may complicate matters, but it did not invent data security issues.

IT's lack of awareness -- not knowing which outside applications have been brought into a company -- means IT is likely not securing these devices or the company information accessed on them. Employees who are terminated or leave an organization may leave with company data still on their personal devices. Even if IT is aware of the applications and cloud services employees are using, it is difficult to confirm that company information has been removed from all their devices.

Although IT should be aware of and try to address these points, some security concerns might be universal. Company-supplied laptops and thumb drives can be lost, stolen or hacked, leading to a loss of company data. And centralized company storage can be attractive to hackers because confidential company information is in one place and can be accessed all at once. The cloud may complicate matters, but it did not invent data security issues.

What other issues are there?

Unknown applications not only introduce security concerns, but also raise questions about the stability of the company's network. If IT doesn't know which applications are running over the network, they don't know how much bandwidth those applications are using.

Although being able to access work documents from any device makes employees' lives easier when they are working, it can also collapse the boundaries between employee's professional and personal lives and may lead to frustration and burnout for employees who find they can't turn off work anymore. Managers should make sure that employees who practice BYOC or BYOA balance work and life appropriately.

The point of BYOA and BYOC is to increase productivity, but some tools might end up being more distracting than helpful. In addition, employees may end up using too many tools, which eliminates one advantage of BYOC and BYOA.

How should IT and management respond?

Many experts recommend that IT be involved with the BYOC and BYOA movement without stifling it. IT teams can do this by respecting worker choices while remaining aware of where employees are putting information.

IT managers and teams should find out what employees are doing with personal clouds and applications, then decide if the outside tools are good for the company and address usage in a policy. Project managers can help IT by encouraging employees to settle on one environment (if possible) so that the outside applications help with organization rather than introduce further disorganization.

In addition to implementing a policy for bring your own practices, IT can also place a mobile device management (MDM) product on devices employees use to access outside applications. An MDM tool lets IT keep an eye on the applications and services employees are using. Another step is to set up an enterprise app store from which employees can download company-approved applications.

IT teams also should assess whether the company infrastructure can handle all the applications and cloud services employees are running over the network.

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