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What "Emailgate" Tells Us About the Changing World of BYOD Policy

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hillary clinton On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that using an email server for official communication was perhaps not ideal. Amidst conversations surrounding security and transparency, Clinton responded that the primary driver was convenience:

“I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two. Looking back, it would have been better if I’d simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn’t seem like an issue.”

I think many of us can relate to the desire for simplicity—for example, carrying around only what is necessary. This is often seen as the driver behind bring your own device (BYOD) acceptance. Why carry two devices or manage two accounts, when just one of each could be used? But beyond the issue of preference or privacy, “emailgate” highlights the changing nature of communication in professional settings.

While I keep my work and personal emails separate, it’s a very thin divide between the two now. When I check email in the morning on my iPhone, my two primary accounts merge together and two worlds essentially intertwine. My personal cell phone is also my business phone, as I use a mobile app to manage my business communications, instead of a traditional desk phone.. Instead of a desk full of devices I once relied on for work, all of my business applications now fit easily into my pocket on one device—accessed through an internet connection available nearly everywhere.

One of the challenges facing IT departments, given the ubiquity with which personal smartphones and tablets are being used in the workplace, is how to manage and secure business communications on personal devices. Where to draw the line between personal and private becomes not just a concern of the device owner, but for IT tasked with protecting critical information. That, perhaps, is the tricky part.

More personal devices are entering the workplace and IT departments support users that echo Secretary Clinton’s sentiment. Employees want to use one device for all their communications; not one for work and one for home. IT is essentially asked to meet the needs of the workforce, while also keeping company data secure.

One of the biggest concerns regarding Secretary Clinton’s private email server is security. As we have seen from a never-ending list of celebrity phone breaches, data on a personal device is often not secured. Ensuring that the data users access from their BYOD devices remains safe is both a policy and a technical question. Whether your organization more closely resembles the State Department or a newly funded startup, information security is paramount.

The conversation extends beyond email. Many modern workers use their personal cell phone number as their primary or secondary professional points of contact, and store professional contacts in their personal contact list. At times, this means customer information leaves with employees. Keeping company data in the company’s hands is of utmost importance during periods of change.

One subtle point of the conversation is more challenging to quantify. When a user accesses the same device for personal and business communications, the clear line that once existed between personal and professional life blurs. Separating these pieces is a critical concern to the BYOD user. In order to be readily available, the user may also feel pressure to stay connected to work at all times.

This is far from a bleak outlook for personal devices in the workplace. Companies are still adapting to the proliferation of affordable mobile devices and the effect they have on our professional and personal experiences. The benefits of planning and implementing a well-designed policy is the creation of  a flexible, mobile work experience that has become the hallmark of the modern workforce.

A personal device can become a powerful business tool when the proper preparations and policy are put in place. With the right tools, critical company data remains safeguarded, while allowing for a dynamic, mobile workforce to adapt to the ever-changing demands of a global economy.

[Featured image courtesy of JStone / Shutterstock.com.]

Originally published Mar 13, 2015, updated Aug 12, 2020

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