Are Latin American startups really ready for across-the-board BYOD policies?

By August 1, 2018

The policy that requires employees to bring their own digital devices to the office is already a popular company policy across many startups in Latin America, where thriving tech ecosystems in Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Chile have grown at alarming rates over the past few years. The result has seen a demand for employees to “BYOD” (or Bring your own Device) as the average startup’s ability to invest in providing sufficient devices for an entire body of staff is limited.

What’s more, recent research predicts that the BYOD market is due to expand even further, expected to be worth a whopping $15.5 billion by 2019. Whether it be a smartphone, laptop or tablet, the flexibility of being able to work – at times remotely – on a personal device is very attractive to young startups, where working hours rarely stick to the regular 9-5.

Aside from the obvious money-saving advantages, there have also been suggestions that allowing employees to work from their own devices increases productivity and even happiness.

Research from 2016 outlined that, out of a total 206 surveyed, BYOD was a policy approximately 60% of organisations already had in place, with a further 13% considering implementing it within their companies. Two years later, it is more than likely the policy will now be in place among those who were already considering it as an option.

However, while this policy may be highly popular for businesses, there are several hypothetical grounds upon which Latin American startups considering implementing it might choose to think twice about their decision.

Stolen or lost devices

Business people in other parts of the world might not think twice about carrying what could amount to several thousands of dollars of equipment around with them on public transport, whilst walking the streets or even in a taxi. However, in some parts of Latin America where street crime and theft is more common, the ability to do this is not to be taken for granted.

In the case of a stolen laptop, for example, important and private information is at risk of falling into the wrong hands, which could have a hugely detrimental impact on a startup, especially if the device is not protected by a password. Not to mention the fact that employees without devices could cause prolonged time periods of inactivity which could cost the company considerable sums of money.

What it might cost for a young company to insure all of its employees’ devices, or even replace stolen ones, might eventually equate to more than the value of investing in devices that can be left permanently in a secure office.

Data breaches

It takes a certain amount of confidence and trust to allow employees to access private company data from their personal devices. Whilst the member of staff is employed by the company, this would rarely present any problems. However, these have the potential to arise if the employee ever leaves the company.

It is commonplace for startups, with a sometimes confused organisational hierarchy and policy that is not yet clearly outlined, to place their trust in employees who might one day chose to misuse confidential data the company has entrusted them with.

In Latin America, it could be argued that significantly high levels of smartphone use and data consumption place startups more at risk than in other parts of the world, should they choose to trust employees to save company data on their personal devices.

In light of large-scale data breaches such as this year’s Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, this is an issue that should perhaps merit more attention and concern.

Unsecured networks

Giving employees the privilege to work on their own schedules and from their own devices often means working remotely, as opportunities to travel with the business may arise.

Connecting to public WiFi networks in cafes, airports and hotels makes users especially vulnerable to hackers or criminals who might be able break their way into company networks and access confidential data.

As a result, phishing threats tend to become more serious as the startup grows, with each average employee connecting from at least two devices on a regular basis.

Cybersecurity measures, which would be the obvious option for startups looking to protect themselves from online criminals, can often be expensive and difficult to monitor.  

With the majority of Latin America’s startup scene focused around technology, the knowledge required for a hacker to break into a personal device is becoming more and more readily available and easy to access.

Whilst BYOD is a logical and easy option for many startups in Latin America, it is important for startups to be wary of the various pitfalls that the policy has the potential to present in today’s digital world.

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