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Technology

 June 28, 2006
Runzheimer International Analyzes How Telework Affects Data Security

 In recent months, sensitive information losses from laptops, PDA's, smart phones and other handheld devices are forcing mobile workers and their employers to reconsider their telework policies and enforcement mechanisms. This year alone, customers, employees, and other stakeholders of organizations such as Providence Home Services, Fidelity Investments and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have been affected by the loss or theft of a laptop or other mobile device that contained sensitive personal information. With mobile devices holding increasing amounts of information, from private customer, patient or employee data to financial figures, strategic plans and proprietary product and service information, it is not surprising that these incidents can discourage many organizations from implementing, expanding, or even maintaining their existing telework or virtual worker programs. Other organizations are reacting by severely limiting the number of employees who are authorized to use mobile devices for business purposes and the kinds of data they can access on these devices.

It comes as no surprise then that 72% of participating organizations in Runzheimer International's 2005 study of telework expressed concern about information and/or physical security of company assets located off-premise. At the same time, when asked if teleworkers who work from a home office are subject to any type of inspection of their work environment, 91% of participants said "no."

"The unfortunate breaches in data security recently highlighted by the media will not and cannot turn back the clock on telework arrangements. The U.S. economy is largely built on knowledge work and whether it involves using mobile technology to work from hotels, airports, vehicles, client sites or from home, employers must find ways to manage and support their mobile workers. Enabling employees to work any place or any time is becoming a necessity; organizations that lack this capability will be at a competitive disadvantage on a number of different levels," says Heidi Skatrud, Vice President, Runzheimer International.

The recent incidents pertaining to mobile device theft highlight a different issue that organizations need to come to grips with and that is: How do organizations manage and support their virtual worker today? What security processes and employee training are in place to safeguard sensitive information, whether it resides on a desktop computer or a notebook computer? "These are the right questions for organizations to be asking," stated Skatrud. "The fact is that e-mail and MS Office applications make the transfer of sensitive data extremely easy, regardless of whether an employee works remotely or from an assigned corporate office."

According to Runzheimer International's 2005 benchmarking study, over a third of organizations expect to spend more on virtual work arrangements this year and 44% expect to increase their number of virtual employees.

"Telework is here to stay," continues Skatrud. "How organizations manage and support this type of work is where time is best spent. This area has been evolving for the past decade and while it may seem like a long time, it continues to be an area where organizations are learning how to manage virtual worker processes. There is a lack of program ownership and accountability that is probably at the root of many issues and concerns that organizations have with their telework arrangements today. In fact, 81% of organizations cannot identify support structures and costs specific to managing telework programs."


With an increased commitment to integrating telework into the overall enterprise business strategy and defining telework processes and program accountability, organizations can protect their valuable data from misuse and still reap the benefits that telework offers.