PDAs (personal digital assistants) and camera phones were popular holiday gifts
in 2003. But employees are taking their new gadgets to work, and that's posing
security and privacy challenges for some employers.
While PDAs, camera phones, and other hot consumer-technology products such
as Microsoft's new Smart Watches are generally not tools employers provide their
workers, employees are enamored with them and tend to carry them everywhere
they go. This trend puts unexpected demands on the organization because it has
to weigh the benefits of employees using such work-saving devices against certain
Here's what some employers have to say about the related risks and rewards
of PDAs and other high tech consumer-driven tools in the workplace.
The risks. Security and privacy are the most commonly cited potential
risks. Some alarmists say employee ability to access confidential and proprietary
information via PDAs is a significant risk. Others point out that the dangers
are no different than access via other means (e.g. computers, intranets, paper
documents, etc.). Therefore, the first step in dealing with consumer technology
in the workplace is to be sure the organization already has a strong confidentiality
policy that is effectively monitored and communicated. For example, experts
say that all sensitive information should always be visibly marked as "confidential,"
"company private," or both, regardless of the format in which it's published.
As an extra precaution, some companies require departing employees to sign
a statement acknowledging that customer data and other proprietary information
is the property of the company and may not be reproduced or used by any unauthorized
individual or entity.
In some cases, it may be prudent to ban certain high-tech tools from the workplace.
Camera phones are a good example. Employers worry about privacy as well as security.
According to a recent USA Today article, companies such as GM, Daimler Chrysler,
and others have grown concerned that employees could use the phones to take
unauthorized pictures of coworkers as well as proprietary company assets such
as new products, manufacturing techniques, and security systems. These concerns
have prompted companies to establish tough policies regarding the possession
and use of camera phones in their facilities. Some organizations won't permit
them on the property. Others ban them from certain locations, and others permit
them under very restrictive conditions.
Because the Microsoft Smart Watches are so new, their potential impact on work
environments has yet to be determined.
The rewards. Despite the risks, consumer high-tech tools can bring unexpected
rewards to the workplace. For example, there's ample evidence that PDAs play
a significant role in improving mobility and productivity. The HR manager for
an industrial automation firm says that PDAs are necessary tools for most of
their employees. Among other things, the ability to access and download customer
information quickly from almost anywhere helps improve customer service performance.
Intel came to similar conclusions. "With proper synchronization, PDAs currently
provide employees a convenient way to view their calendars and other documents
that previously required a full-sized notebook computer. With the addition of
wireless connectivity, PDAs become employees' real-time link to their office."
While PDAs are gaining acceptance as viable consumer-demanded workplace productivity
tools, camera phones are still highly suspect. However, based on its experience
with PDAs, Intel has concluded that "&users will continue to bring emerging
consumer technologies into the workplace." So organizations need to be prepared
to adopt and adapt to the inevitable. As with PDAs, employers may find that
these devices can be a cost-effective solution to enhance legitimate business
Other considerations. Once an organization decides what place consumer
technology tools have in their work environment, it needs to establish policies
and procedures for use. Technology integration, support and related costs are
also important considerations.
When employees started to bring their PDAs to work at Intel, they expected
to be able to use them immediately without experiencing technical difficulties.
That created a new challenge for the company. In it's Integrating Consumer Technologies into the Work Environment
white paper, Intel explains, "Initially, we did not know how to support these
tools, set standards, manage integration, or recommend people's buying strategies
to make sure they could get the maximum value from their product."