Most workers will be mobile by 2011: IDC

Within three years, most workers will be mobile and IT managers need to have a strategy to ensure the data on their portable devices is secure, according to market research firm IDC.

The Framingham, Mass. consultancy this week released a study, titled “Worldwide Mobile Worker 2007-2011 Forecast and Analysis,” predicting that by 2011, a billion workers will be mobile, meaning they spend at least 20 per cent of their time away from the office.

In the U.S., 75 per cent of workers will be mobile in 2011, up from 68 per cent. IDC did not make a prediction for Canada. Whether someone works in their home, from outside the office or spends a significant amount of time away from the office, the nomadic nature of work means IT managers have to think about managing the devices mobile workers use, said Stacy Sudan, IDC’s research analyst for mobile enterprise software.

She recommends companies evaluate “mobile device management solutions,” which have functions such as software distribution, asset management and remote control.

“Getting mobile device management software in place is really important because before you can start to think about a broader security strategy for mobile devices you need to know basic things, such as which devices are actually connected to the network,” Sudan said.

To secure devices, companies need to first find a way of encrypting the data on the devices and a way to erase data remotely if devices are lost or stolen, she added.

“They should look at a solution that includes backup because if you’re going to wipe all the information off a device you want to make sure it’s being synched up with some server that can house that information, so when a person gets a new device, it’s easy to port all the information on to a new device.”

IT managers also need to look for security software, such as anti-virus, firewall and virtual private networking (VPN), that works on portable hardware.

“One of the problems with security on these devices is to balance of security and usability,” she said. “You don’t the end user getting so frustrated they don’t use their mobile device anymore because it’s too frustrating for them and there are too many passwords.

Although large companies tend to have their IT departments produce handhelds, small and mid-sized firms let their workers buy their own devices and then submit expense claims.

“Clearly these devices have dropped in price dramatically over the last couple of years,” Sudan said. “It’s become a lot more feasible for anyone to go out and buy a device, so we’re going to hear more about the management issues that go along with this.”

A case in point is the iPhone, which at press time was not offered by any Canadian carriers but works on GSM networks.

“The iPhone was a huge thing,” she said. “We’re hearing all the time about companies not wanting to bring the iPhone in and people wanting to bring their iPhone in.”