BYOD (bring your own device) is a growing trend for workers on the move – but what are the implications for their travel managers? Martin Ferguson reports
IT’S NOT UNUSUAL for business travellers to traipse around the globe carrying a trio of mobile devices. I spent the best part of four years hauling two smartphones, a tablet and a laptop in my hand luggage. Regularly, I found myself in hotel rooms and airport lounges checking my work email on a Blackberry, using travel and social media apps on an iPhone, while my iPad and MacBook were reserved solely for writing or talking on Skype. It was extraordinarily unproductive to constantly switch between platforms (and carry four different chargers), and I was also far more likely to lose or damage the equipment.
Like many contemporary travellers, I wanted to access itinerary management apps, review sites and use mobile check-in technology as well as email and company servers. At the time my employer didn’t allow any of the above. Everyone was issued with a company Blackberry, and access to consumer apps and personal email was heavily restricted. Eventually, the policy was overhauled. Blackberrys were still available, but staff could also connect to the company network using their own devices.
Very few travel buyers are responsible for sourcing mobile technology and devising policy, but given its increasing importance to the travel programme – and the fact mobile technology is used more intensely by business travellers – their opinions are increasingly sought by IT, facilities and human resources departments.
There are major benefits to a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) policy. Chief financial officers are enthused by cost savings, as it reduces or eradicates the need to have a telecoms provider, and lessens overheads associated with employees’ personal usage. Research suggests employees are also likely to be more productive using a device they have chosen.
And in any case, as Sabre’s customer innovations manager Joakim Everstin says: “Travel apps will find their way to the traveller regardless of whether the company you work for supports them or not.”
Speaking at the Business Travel Show, Everstin told travel buyer delegates it is now necessary to have a clearly-defined mobile policy that allows the use of relevant apps – not only to control costs and stay within policy, but also to help make every traveller’s experience less painful.
Security is the major obstacle to introducing a BYOD policy. Corporate assets and commercially sensitive information are at obvious risk unless an organisation has control of its staff’s mobile devices.
While it’s unlikely a business traveller would argue with that fact, few want their IT administrator to have access to personal information. In a business world where staff turnover is relatively high, this issue is becoming more pertinent.
Andy Slough, IT director for Chambers Travel, says the consumerisation of business travel habits means travellers are demanding richer services that some corporates can’t yet support because of security concerns. He says around two thirds of Chambers’ clients retain a tightly managed policy around mobile.
“Travellers will access services they want any way they can, but companies who have not yet relaxed policy still think the risk of exposure is too great,” says Slough. “It’s important to make staff as happy and productive as possible. It’s good for business. And for new generations of workers, using their own mobile technology is second nature. But what happens if someone’s personal device, which is connected to company email and servers, is lost? It can wreak havoc. If it’s locked down, it can be remotely wiped.”
Slough says ultimately IT directors must consider the balance between technologies’ vulnerability to attack with employee productivity gains.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Greg Wilczek, travel director for professional services firm Marsh and McLennan Companies, insists it’s impossible nowadays to prevent people bringing their own phones to work. “Corporations are having to move towards BYOD. Our staff currently use Blackberrys, but the IT Group is looking to the future.”
Ike Ihenacho is global travel, expense and meetings manager for confectionary firm Mondelez. He says his company takes a common-sense approach. “Our policy depends on your location. We’re not issued Blackberrys, as such. In the UK, for example, staff can buy their own device and can charge some of the cost to the company. It’s about common sense. You download what you need to do your job. If someone finds an app they need and it is restricted, they talk to the business.”
Global marketing and consulting firm Sapient is ahead of the curve. Global travel and client experience director Michelle De Costa says the company culture lends itself to a strictly BYOD policy. “The guys buy their own devices and hook up to intranet, email and whatever else they need,” she says. “Sapient’s background is rooted in IT, so we have the best and brightest people. Our global security and IT is amazing. The average age of our travellers is 32. Many of them don’t even want to travel with a laptop anymore. They want to grab their tablet and move. A lot goes on behind the scenes to make it safe, but connecting via a VPN [virtual private network] connection is simple.”
De Costa says high levels of technology adoption – including online booking tools – are down to Sapient’s young workforce. “It’s very self- service. We have a low number of admin staff, so most travellers book themselves.”
The demands of business travellers, and all corporate employees, will continue to grow as mobile technology becomes cheaper, faster and more sophisticated. But there is a genuine desire in the business community to overcome security concerns for the good of staff morale and profitability.