by Tony Westbrook

Bring your own dilemma

Oct 31, 20124 mins
MobileSmall and Medium Business

There is definitely a problem with mobile technology. At the recent CIO Summit, at least one delegate piled a pyramid of wireless devices onto on the chair next to him: A 10in tablet, a Galaxy Note, an iPhone and some kind of basic mobile phone. He probably had a notebook in his bag as well…

It is clear – we are all scrabbling to support these multiple-device-toting, complex, consumer-led Generation Y users as they try to log in across our struggling corporate networks. The compliance that many CIOs have shown with this trend is in stark contrast to that of the big iron ‘Network Nazis’ of old, who got tough when PCs and PC-based servers first started popping up in the enterprise.

The hype about BYOD and the desire to satisfy the mobile ‘needs’ of a younger generation misses a more important point. Integrating and securing innumerable portable devices across corporate networks seems a big undertaking at a time of tight IT cost control, especially when it isn’t always clear what the business objectives of BYOD actually are.

And device complexity will only get worse. Steve Ballmer has announced a shift in Microsoft’s technology business model, with more focus on specific devices for specific purposes. Our CIO’s pile of devices could get still taller…

Is it the role of the IT function to accept and accommodate this proliferation? Surely we have a duty to think a little harder about what our business needs. In any case do users really want their devices to be locked down by corporate security policies which can gain access to private files, wipe data and generally treat their hardware as if it belonged to their employer? In order for CIOs to meet corporate security obligations, that is what users must accept.

You’ll have read plenty of evidence that this a trend already underway, and that it’s your role to deal with it. Under the guise of a trivial saving in client hardware, a whole raft of infrastructure and management products now have a new, distress purchaser: you.

Naturally, a lot of the infrastructure offerings are built around showing how the cost can be moved from a capital budget across to an operational one, just as cloud?based services have done before.

But the appeal of BYOD was to use the hardware and infrastructure already out there, so why are we discussing the need for extra expenditure to manage and support it? And will users actually want to move to our new Jerusalem when we have finished building it?

If, for example, we start filtering out personal activity on personal devices; why would users want to use their expensive hardware in our corporate environment at all? Most likely they won’t and will instead look to you to supply hardware if you believe they need it. In which case we will have achieved precisely nothing.

You might also look to recent history for a pointer. The arc of the rise of mobile devices in the enterprise is similar to that previously prescribed by the PC: at first unmanaged and uncontrolled, later absorbed into core IT strategy.

So, before your CEO swallows the hype of BYOD undigested, remind him or her, as well as the rest of the board, of their obligations. To be clear what the objectives of such a technology roll-out are. To identify precisely what services cannot be supported to personal devices through web-based apps or VPN connections currently in use or available. And to clarify the circumstances under which the company would not simply issue dedicated, locked down, mobile devices to the users who fall outside this group?

After doing all that, you may well discover that it is only the people sitting around the board table who still believe they need BYOD access to your corporate infrastructure. In which case maybe you should buy them the hardware and let them manage their own personal tech pyramids…