I clearly remember back when I first joined META Group in 2000 and was given a company laptop – and IBM ThinkPad as it happens. The tech person in our office told me, “Treat this as your own computer,” by which he meant that I was free to put whatever personal applications I wanted on it.
Our tech guy was a terrific, highly competent individual, who kept the computer systems and network at our remote office humming. But today I cringe at that particular memory. Actually I had no need to put personal applications on the company computer, and I never did. Instead I used what I came to consider my “secret advantage”, my Palm PDA. Although certainly not a replacement for a laptop, the Palm allowed me to manage the data I needed while away from home including my spending versus budget (PocketQuicken), my appointments and phone numbers (Datebk7), my diet (CalorieKing), and my personal email. I even could read e-books (eReader.com) on it over lunch.
Today, of course, with a device like the iPad or a Windows tablet (my personal present mobile solution), I can do much more. Actually even at home my Vaio UX replaces a laptop for most of my personal computing needs. I only move to a larger computer for heavier processing needs such as photo edit.
The point here is that for several reasons IT should be discouraging if not preventing employees from using their company laptops as their own computers. The dangers range from conflicts between poorly behaved games and vital company software through the very real possibility of malware infections that then spread through the company network behind corporate firewalls to hostile workplace suits from employees who do not appreciate the particular taste of coworkers in online entertainment. Of course keeping personal data off company computers has advantages for employees as well. What happens to all that personal data on the hard drive, for instance, when the individual turns in an old laptop for a newer one or leaves the job. Particularly when the employee is terminated by the company, he has no opportunity to migrate his data to a personal computer and remove it from the company laptop. Personally I would not want to leave my financial information, for instance, behind.
The problem has been that employees spend much of their day either in the office or traveling on business, and they cannot reasonably be asked to carry two laptops. And smart phones, while good for written as well as verbal communications, usually lack the screen real estate to support other applications, particularly Web browsing and the use of database apps like Quicken with entry and display screens designed for larger systems.
That is changing with the advent of slate computing appliances. In some companies employees are already bringing in their personal iPads to run their applications and allow personal access to non-work Internet sites in the office. Of course it is not perfect; the iPad for instance famously does not support Flash, which means that many Web sites will not work properly or at all. But mobile computing has always had technology restrictions of one kind or another, and other kinds of slates are close to appearing on the market.
This makes it reasonable for IT to impose more stringent restrictions on the non-business use of company-owned computers. The one accommodation companies do need to make is to provide guest pass-through Internet access on their internal WiFi networks both for office visitors and employees with personal slates. Properly done, this access can be totally separated from the company network, so that any malware that individuals may import cannot get into the company network. Corporate security should, however, restrict access to sites that might create a hostile work environment for some employees as a defense based on the idea that the offensive material was not on a company-owned computer will not be acceptable in court.