Managing a mixed-device environment in the public safety workplace

In today’s increasingly mobile world, one would be hard pressed to find someone who does not own a smartphone, tablet or portable device. The popularity and growing usefulness of mobile devices means that users increasingly expect the same...


In today’s increasingly mobile world, one would be hard pressed to find someone who does not own a smartphone, tablet or portable device. The popularity and growing usefulness of mobile devices means that users increasingly expect the same capabilities in the workplace. This era of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work is already upon us and is transforming the way people perform their jobs. The proliferation of mobile data devices promises to significantly increase productivity and responsiveness.

BYOD transforms the public safety workspace

The public safety workplace is no different. Recognizing that mobile technology can help them do their jobs more effectively, many first responders are already using their own mobile devices in the workplace while applying steady pressure on government leadership to provide them with better access to mobile data and applications.

In fact, in a 2012 Motorola Solutions survey of 250 U.S. public safety decision makers, 86 percent indicated first responders use their own consumer-grade devices for work-related activities. BYOD has become a phenomenon that public safety agencies cannot ignore. However, this also comes with new security, reliability and performance concerns due to the sensitive nature of the profession and the type of data being accessed and shared via personal devices.

So, how do chief information officers (CIOs) balance the use of personal devices that may offer reduced costs with department-issued devices that promise more security and reliability? Government and public safety agencies are facing a mixed-device workspace, and CIOs must look at the efficiency advantages of BYOD alongside the new security and reliability challenges when developing a strategy for their departments.

Information security concerns

While BYOD brings with it clear advantages, it also brings to the forefront one of the top concerns faced by public safety agencies, enterprises, and consumers alike—increased security risks. For public safety, the risk can impact the safety of first responders, citizens and the community. In fact, the survey highlights that 80 percent of respondents are concerned about the security implications of allowing BYOD.

The vulnerability of personal devices leads to a multitude of new risks that must be mitigated. One risk is the danger of criminals gaining unauthorized access to confidential data. Mobile devices are also susceptible to malware which can render department networks vulnerable to attack. The amount of malware targeting mobile devices continues to increase each year as mobile devices become more ubiquitous. Any moment a department’s network is delayed or offline can mean a moment when a first responder is not able to do his or her job.

In addition, mobile devices are easily lost or stolen. Take for instance, a situation in which a foot patrol officer in pursuit of a criminal inadvertently drops his cell phone from his pocket or duty belt. Another criminal or bystander can pick up the phone and access its unencrypted content.

This is not to say that BYOD should not be an option, but several measures must be implemented to allow BYOD access to sensitive data while mitigating the threats. Without these precautions, public safety departments can quickly lose control of sensitive data and open their networks to attack.

Reliability and performance concerns

The reliability of personal devices for public safety must always be evaluated as part of a complete BYOD strategy. First responders should not have to worry that their equipment will fail when they need it the most.

Consumer devices are generally not meant to operate in harsh environments such as continuous heat above 95 degrees, cold below 32 degrees, dust and rain. These devices often fare poorly with the prolonged daily use that police, fire and emergency medical services users subject them to every day. Public safety cannot rely on devices that simply shut down after sitting in the sun for ten minutes or after getting wet during a patrol in the rain.

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