What the Apple Watch and wearable tech mean for IT staff (Hint: BYOW)

smartwatchOne million devices. That’s the estimate for how many Apple Watches were pre-ordered on the first day of pre-sale. This may sound like a large number, but it’s likely only a fraction of the total number of Apple Watches that will sell this quarter.

There’s no question that wearable technology adoption appears strong. IDC estimates more than 45 million wearable devices will be sold in 2015, while Business Insider estimates that 148 million units will be shipped annually by 2019. Last October, PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that 20 percent of Americans owned a wearable device, and that portion was increasing at a rate comparable to tablet adoption just a few years earlier.

The Apple Watch and other new wearables are sure to increase adoption. But one consequence following on the coattails of this trend could spell trouble for your organization: the consumerization of wearable technology. But by addressing the major security concerns head on, companies will be free to embrace the many benefits of wearables. 

Health and happiness — the benefits of wearables

Wearables offer big benefits to employers, one of which is a healthier workforce. Health and fitness wearables monitor everything from how many steps users take, to their heart rate, to the quality of sleep they get each night.

Another benefit stems from the consumerization of IT itself. Employees want to work on devices they like and find easy to use. Apps for smart watches and other wearables are growing in number, many focused on business uses. The Apple Watch already has more than 3,500 apps, and some of them come from vendors an organization may be using, like Salesforce, Evernote, or American Airlines. These apps, when combined with IT systems and software already being used, make smart devices more appealing to complement daily work.

Wearables complicate security

But while consumerization of IT can make employees more productive, the added convenience of working from anywhere carries new security risks. Wearables are no different.

BYOD and mobility are the new normal of user-centered computing, but they affect not only the devices we use for work, but also those that we connect to our work devices. It’s possible that employees will connect their fitness band or smartwatch to their work tablet or smartphone. It’s equally possible that employees will connect a wearable to their personal mobile device that’s used for work via a BYOD program, and which has access to corporate email and data.

Three surface-level security issues come to mind when thinking about wearables. The first risk is the personal data that hackers might access through an employer’s network. In the unfortunate circumstance that your company network is breached, will employees’ health, fitness, and personal information be exposed through the company’s smartphone and tablet data?

The second risk is to corporate data residing on devices that are connected to smartwatches, fitness bands, and other wearables. Security of these connected devices lies outside a company’s control. Without additional features added to mobile device management, IT staff can’t protect the data.

Lastly, because wearables have the ability to record and transfer information, IT should be concerned about data loss. Recent data losses from insurance and banking have shown firsthand how malware can sit for months unnoticed, quietly recording and sending data. Protecting wearable devices from malware will be essential to combatting data loss.

While wearables certainly haven’t permeated the majority of the U.S. workforce yet, the number of people using them is significant, and the user population is growing. As adoption and usage of wearables grows, the likelihood increases that hackers will target the data these devices produce.

But can a company that believes in BYOD simultaneously restrict linking of wearable tech?

Compliance and BYOW policy

Just as organizations need a smartphone or tablet BYOD policy, they’ll need one for wearable technology — a BYOW policy.

At the same time, the mobile device management (MDM) industry will have to account for these connected devices. Some MDMs, like Good Technology, already give IT professionals the ability to control wearable technology, and more will follow. To prepare for the rise in wearables, IT departments can explore the idea of adding wearable technologies to their BYOD policy. The key will be balancing security and data management with the benefits of wearables.

How is your organization preparing for wearables in the workplace? Leave us a comment or question below.

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2 thoughts on “What the Apple Watch and wearable tech mean for IT staff (Hint: BYOW)

  1. Luke H says:

    My company has been switching MDMs it seems like on a monthly basis, often because they leave something to be desired.. We’ve now settled on an EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management) solution. For all I know, they just added the word enterprise and raised the price… However, they also offer other solutions if you’d prefer not to go all in with the EMM. Those other solutions provide less functionality but also ask less of the user, which is nice. None of it feels native yet, but given enough time, these solutions will be transparent but still secure. As more enterprise apps start hitting wearables (I think IBM/Apple Watch have a few), solutions will come to the surface. They always do.

  2. Nick Godwin says:

    You’re definitely right, Luke. MDMs are adapting to new security threats that keep coming as the mobile experience expands, and trying to balance that with the need to fit natively into mobile. The whole landscape may look different in the next couple years as organizations’ needs and mobile software and hardware evolve.

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