The truth about BYOD

19 Oct 2012

Is letting employees bring their own devices a great way to cut costs or a recipe for disaster? Tim Anderson finds out

Depending on who you listen to, the current trend of bringing your own device to work is either the greatest productivity boost since the spreadsheet, or the biggest risk to security since Windows was connected to the internet.

As the name suggests, bring your own device (BYOD) is about employees using their own computers, smartphones or tablets at work as well as at home.

Evangelists will tell you BYOD is a win-win situation. Companies can reduce their hardware costs, while employees get to work with kit they feel comfortable with. However, there are huge implications for companies adopting a BYOD system: who pays for the device? How do you deal with the intermingling of company and personal data? Who is responsible for data security?

Whether your business is pursuing a formal BYOD policy, or has adopted one by default with employees using their own equipment without the consent of the IT department, these issues – and many more – must be addressed.

Inspired by Apple

If there’s one company at the centre of BYOD it’s Apple, because it is iPhones and iPads that have crept into companies. “It starts when the CEO received an iPad for Christmas and wants to use it in the office to run corporate applications, Outlook and so on,” says Zoe Darling-Smith, advisory services director at CIO Connect, which advises British CIOs. The CEO then discusses those requirements with the IT department and this is the catalyst for change.

Dave Frymier is responsible for the “consumerisation of IT program” at Unisys, a consulting and IT support firm. “Like many companies we started off with BlackBerrys,” he told PC Pro. “Our BlackBerrys started off as all corporate purchased. Then the iPhone came out in 2007. All these people showed up with these devices and wanted to use them for work.

“Consumerisation of IT is driving BYOD, and the consumerisation of IT in addition to BYOD is driving a whole set of changes that are rippling throughout the IT infrastructure, all the way from the data centre through your remote access systems and into our networks.”

There’s a sense in which the BYOD trend is really more about an Apple-shaped shift in the way we do computing at work.

Do employee devices such as tablets run alongside the PCs and laptops they were using before? “In some cases, no,” says Darling-Smith. “The next phase is how people are defining which device to have. It tends to be around the types of users, classifying which people should and shouldn’t have the ability to bring their own device. If you have people sat on customer service desks, the need for them to bring their own device is minimal. The other extreme is a sales force: they’re completely mobile, just needing to log into SaaS applications such as Salesforce.com.”

Why does the CEO (or anyone else) want to use their iPad at work? Because it delivers a better user experience than he gets from his work-issued PC or laptop. Executives who spend a lot of time in meetings discover that iPads are great for reading documents and taking notes, plus they’re light, lie flat on the table, and have a long battery life. There’s a sense, then, in which the BYOD trend is really more about an Apple-shaped shift in the way we do computing at work. If you’re puzzled about why Microsoft is sidelining 30 years of the Windows UI to re-imagine it as a tablet OS in Windows 8, look no further for the answer.

At the same time, this isn’t only about Apple. It’s also about models of computing and working. Businesses making sense of how to accommodate iPads or other mobile devices into their IT infrastructure may find themselves re-evaluating employees’ needs. Is Microsoft Office necessary, or will simpler iPad apps do all that’s required? Equally, employees who get business email wherever they are may work flexibly, even if that isn’t in their terms of employment. “Some of them are finding that if they’re able to use their own devices, the latest Apple usually, they’re seeing improved productivity, improved motivation, and less loss of devices,” says Darling-Smith. “The seamless integration between working at home and in the office means people will happily look at their work emails at 8pm or 9pm.”

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