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Many Bosses Unaware of Personal Devices' Popularity at Work, Studies Say

There's a disconnect between bosses and their employees and how prevalent they believe consumer technology is in the workplace. The finding could have security ramifications.

It goes without saying that devices like smartphones and e-readers as well as Web platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become so pervasive that for many they've become necessities in the workplace and at home.

Most people know this. Everyone apparently, except the people who pay the bills, according to new research.

Recent studies reveal that many organization leaders may not know just how popular personal devices are with their employees. This lack of awareness can bring along security and privacy issues.

Research from Unisys and International Data Corp. (IDC) suggests there's an employer-employee gap when it comes to technology usage and awareness at the office -- for business or pleasure.

The company studied 2,820 workers in 10 countries and discovered that people are blurring the lines between home and business when they use consumer devices and social Web apps. Meanwhile, another study of 650 IT decision-makers found a disconnect between bosses and workers on their perceptions of how personal usage overlaps with professional usage in the workplace:

  • Sixty-nine percent of employees said they could access non work-related websites, but 44 percent of bosses said so.
  • Fifty-two percent of employees said they could store personal data and files on company resources while 37 percent of employers said the same.
  • Ninety-five percent of employees said they use at least one self-purchased device for work -- not a company or government-purchased one.
This lack of awareness can have data security implications for governments.

"Seventy-three percent of IT executives in our study say their enterprise networks are very secure. Is that really true if you're not aware of half of the devices or what your employees are using?" said Venkatapathi Puvvada, vice president and managing partner of the Horizontal Services Segment at Unisys Federal. "How could that be true?"

The research incorporated respondents both from the corporate world and public sector. Unisys referred to employees as "i-workers" or "information workers"; 46 percent surveyed gave their employers poor ratings for the IT support provided to consumer technology used in the workplace.

But perhaps the bosses can take heart: Their workers say they're actually using the technology to get work done, according to the survey results.

  • More than 40 percent of employees use instant messaging and text messaging for business; a quarter use blogs and professional online communities for business purposes.
  • Employees reported using smartphones, laptops and mobile phones at work at nearly twice the rate reported by employers.
  • IDC estimates that the number of employees using smartphones for work will almost double from 2009 to 2014.
"We wanted to understand more broadly how our information workers, these employees, are using these consumer technologies in the personal [space], but more importantly, for their work," Puvvada said.

Puvvada also said that adoption of these technologies at work seems to be stemming from the bottom up in most cases, and not the top down. That is, the employees are simply deciding on their own to use their personal devices and social networking apps for work -- without being mandated by their companies or bosses on the matter.

Puvvada feels that this gap means that organizations aren't typically ready to support or secure their IT spaces.

"What we have is -- these IT organizations that are not there taking advantage of these technologies. They're not bringing these to the table to be provided as part of their organization," Puvvada said.

Forty percent of organizations said they didn't have guidelines for social media use at work, but most said they expect to use blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn more for business purposes over the next year.

"I call this the 'always-on employee, always-on citizen [or] always-on tech-savvy individual.' So the challenge on the analytics side of this research is, how does an organization that is not necessarily aware of all these take advantage of this?" Puvvada said.

He added that since so many employers who were surveyed seem ignorant of how often employees store personal data on company resources, it can generate huge problems on the job when it comes to legal liability and intellectual property.

"This has huge implications -- policy, security -- especially in the government market," Puvvada said.


Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.