People who are aware of the mobile revolution are still often amazed by its scope. The implications of this seismic shift have already hit personal users, but now the true potential (and necessity) of well-integrated mobility in the office is starting to become impossible to ignore.
Part of the reason for this is that the numbers have become so exaggerated, which also makes them a bit hard to parse at times. Juniper Research recently released its 2017–2021 mobile forecast, which includes promises like an overall increase in mobile data streaming to 774,000 petabytes—or 81 billion hours of 4K streaming video, according to IT World Canada. Of that, more than 318,000 petabytes will be flowing over mobile data networks rather than Wi-Fi connections.
Increasing data usage
Impressive as such figures are, however, there are more useful numbers available. Right now, according to Juniper, the average mobile data usage is about 2 GB per month. By 2021, it will have risen to over 5 GB per month. In tablets, usage will also more than double, jumping from 1.5 GB per month to about 3.3 GB per month. Use of mobile data is rising faster than ever, and estimates made by Cisco analysts predict the growth could happen even faster than Juniper expects.
These sorts of numbers are only possible because mobile data consumption has leaked from a pure off-hours activity into a regular part of the office workday. Whether it’s being able to call into a video conference from the road or staying on top of the most important happenings of the day, modern employees almost always need the internet. The phone-free workplace just isn’t an option anymore. In the modern office, networking hardware needs to be robust enough to quickly and securely handle it all.
There are good reasons for adapting to this trend. Connected employees can be way more productive—according to a survey from TINYpulse—while still feeling that they have more freedom (and agency) within the organisation. Travel costs can be kept to a minimum, and the best candidates can join your team regardless of whether or not they’re able to relocate.
In the office itself, the advantages can be even greater. Sharing a secure file space can totally eliminate transfer times for large files, and secure internal chat clients can allow ad hoc groups of employees to achieve truly astonishing things.
A necessary item of business
The advance of mobile computing isn’t something IT security managers have an option of ignoring. The only sensible option for business owners is to embrace the explosion of mobile to ensure they get the best it has to offer—and that they can offset its many possible downsides. One potential downside of increased mobility in the office is the security exposure mobile devices can create in your network.
An employee can become the victim of anything. From a wide-ranging zero-day hack to a targeted spear-phishing scheme. But each time a person (either a customer or an employee) walks into Wi-Fi range, they become a potential carrier of a digital disease. It’s not just that your employees could be conscious (or more likely unconscious) mobile computing spies—even their communications can increasingly be intercepted. There’s a certain difficulty in getting access to a company’s internal discussions when they take place in physically closed rooms. But when they take place across continents—with each statement in a conversation crossing maybe thousands of miles from sender to recipient—the potential for interception becomes exponentially higher.
Mobility in the office
It’s more important than ever to maintain strong security protocols. Everything sensitive should be encrypted, and employees need to be trained in best practices to avoid undoing that protection. A good firewall can’t just be strong—it needs to be actively managed by IT security personnel, and remote access needs to be monitored just as closely.
It’s not easy, securely acquiring the benefits of mobility in the office. But it’s doable with strong IT security practices. Remember that IT security needs to focus just as much on hardware security as software. It’s vital to keep physical devices like USB drives away from sensitive hardware, and the settings on routers and other mobile access points have to be actively monitored at all times.
One of the biggest challenges for security is to head off the possibility of interception of data, which usually means keeping everyone on your Wi-Fi network and off of cellular as much as possible. Ultimately, you can’t control which Wi-Fi access points employees use when they’re out in the world at large, but the office itself can remain secure with the help of a good network and good practices.
All these potential advantages and best practices can fall apart if employees aren’t on board. Just as increased mobility in the office can increase worker output and happiness, it can also distract from important tasks. Strike a balance between personal use, productivity, and network security. It’s a delicate equilibrium to maintain, but as mobile computing continues its march to domination of our time and mindshare, it’s a balance no company can afford to ignore.