It is becoming increasingly common for employees to use their own smartphones, tablets and laptops for work as well as home use, and the opportunity to do so is an important issue for tech-savvy job hunters. But there are some real concerns to be addressed, writes Neil Parmar
When Barack Obama, the US president, first entered the Oval Office, his BlackBerry was the one personal device he insisted on taking with him.
Since then, business executives and other employees at major global organisations have started toting their own technology to the office with the expectation that they, too, can use it for work.
There is even a dedicated nickname for this global movement - BYOD, or "bring your own device".
"We're actually sitting in this fascinating time, where BYOD is sort of an expression of the time," says Peter Sondergaard, a senior vice president at Gartner, a market research firm.
Globally, more than 5 per cent of employees tapped into their own tablets for work-related tasks last year, according to the Global BYO Index created by Citrix Systems, a networking and technology company.
About 25 per cent used personal smartphones and more than 35 per cent worked using their own laptops, according to the index.
The portability of these products has helped to fuel enterprise IT spending, which is forecast to grow in the Middle East and Africa to nearly €70 billion (Dh343.52bn) this year, up more than 6 per cent from last year, according to data released last month by Gartner.
Business leaders were among the first to drive the BYOD trend, says Aaron White, the regional director for Citrix in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).
"Executives have toys - iPads, Androids and what-not," adds Mr White, "and they're asking IT departments 'why can't I, as an executive, use my iPad to do my business?'"
For years there was a clear line between the kind of technology individuals used at home and in the office. But that boundary is increasingly becoming blurred.
"We continue to see more and more [employees] bringing smartphones, tablets and laptops into the workplace," says Chris Kozup, the senior director of marketing for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea) at Aruba Networks, a wireless-systems company.
"They're also demanding those devices be able to access the corporate network," he adds.
These expectations, however, are causing plenty of stress for companies' tech professionals. Just ask the guys in your IT department.
Configuring each device so it can work on a company's network takes between 15 and 30 minutes, on average.
Multiply that by hundreds of employees, who regularly rotate, lose or upgrade devices, and it becomes complicated - quickly.
At Citrix, where employees globally are allowed to work with different devices from home, 37 unique kinds of tablets are in use, 149 smartphones and more than 1,000 different computer models.
But linking every gadget to a corporate network not only takes times, it also adds to the overall security concerns about company data that is now floating outside the office.
All it takes for a data breach, after all, is a lost laptop or misplaced mobile that falls into the wrong hands.
"Everyone's running around with tablets and laptops that are probably in much better condition - or [feature] better technology - than they usually get in the office," says Milos Hrncar, the area vice president for eastern Emea at Citrix. "On the other hand, in the IT department, they're struggling to keep control."
Even low-tech devices that employees use both at home and work can prove damaging for a business.
USB flash drives are another source of corporate data breaches.
"We see the companies invest so much into securing laptops and mobile devices yet use generic or unencrypted USBs and have no way of detecting whether employees are downloading confidential data on to them," says Antoine Harb, the business development manager for Mena at Kingston, a USB device manufacturer.
More employees are now also working on the go, and the younger, tech-savvy generation born after 1980 currently makes up about 25 per cent of the world's population. That is a growing portion of the global workforce, according to the technology company Avaya.
Employers who prefer to dole out the devices they want workers to use are having a harder time recruiting younger tech-savvy job candidates. Some will simply look elsewhere.
"They don't want to join a company that gives them old laptops," says Mr Hrncar.
In response, some companies are making their policies more flexible.
Citrix launched a "bring your own computer" policy a few years ago, under which employees were given stipends and hardware management was outsourced, so the company could focus on creating software applications to keep corporate data locked internally.
Mr Aaron says the initiative saved Citrix 20 per cent on its IT costs in 2010, and he expects that cost to be lowered as much as 40 per cent this year.
Other technology companies are trying to build segments of their business by providing different technologies that can support employees who want to bring their own devices to work.
Last month, the communications company Polycom released software for companies with employees who want to collaborate via videoconferencing through smartphones.
Its RealPresence Mobile technology, which can be downloaded free for the iPhone 4S and, soon, for Android devices, was previously available for tablets such as Apple's iPad, Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Motorola's Droid Xyboard.
Other businesses are focusing on improving the security of corporate networks. Aruba Networks has released technology pitched at IT departments that want to drive down the cost of managing mobile devices.
Some of Aruba's gadgetry creates a more secure wireless network for smartphones and tablets. It has been implemented by local companies such as the Dusit Thani Dubai hotel, because the number and types of mobile devices that guests bring with them has "skyrocketed" over the past year, says Bertram Shajiev, the IT manager for Dusit Thani Dubai Hotels.In the US, some government agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have said they plan to replace some of their employees' BlackBerrys with iPhones, which are proving more popular or affordable in certain cases.
But Mr Obama, who before his inauguration in 2009 said "I'm clinging to my BlackBerry", still seems to be holding on to it.
Who knows for how long, though, as he has been seen carrying an iPad given to him by the late Steve Jobs, a co-founder of Apple.