by Liz Benison

When is the right time to BYOD?

Nov 08, 20115 mins
IT LeadershipMobileSmall and Medium Business

What’s your reaction when a business unit head tells you their team members want to use their own mobile devices for business purposes? Although your instinct may be to refuse to these requests, I think it’s actually worth giving them serious consideration.

Workers increasingly expect to be able to do business anywhere, at any time, through whatever device they prefer. In many cases the computers they have at home will be much more powerful than what’s on the desk in the office.

But it’s the growing volumes of mobile workers, the rapid development of smartphones and tablets, and the popularity of rich media — especially video in all its forms — that are really changing the game.

Most IT departments already offer mobile solutions to employees, but it’s often a limited range of handsets that may not have kept up with latest developments in the marketplace.

So it’s hardly surprising that employees who’ve bought their own smartphones or tablets now want to use them for work, too.

It’s going to happen anyway… The problem is, people will bring their own devices anyway, so there’s only so long you can continue swimming against the tide.

It’ll be like the old days of greynets, when employees used unauthorised instant messaging or file-sharing services that you couldn’t control or audit, and that left companies open to security and compliance risks.

In the same way, there are huge advantages for organisations whose CIOs implement a formalised Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy.

Allowing people to use the mobile devices they’re familiar with can have a significant impact on their productivity and satisfaction levels.

They’re more likely to stay connected when they’re away from the office, and they’ll need much less support from the IT helpdesk to use the equipment.

On top of that, they can do so much with their sophisticated tablets and smartphones that they’ll often be able to manage without a company-provided laptop, reducing the company’s hardware ownership and maintenance burden.

…so why not embrace it? In the future, people will actually be expected to bring their own devices to work, as working patterns continue to evolve, companies make increasing use of freelancers and contractors, and more individuals work from multiple locations.

So the time is ripe to start planning for that eventuality, looking ahead to where your organisation will be in a couple of years’ time and even thinking about how to encourage people to bring their own devices into the workplace.

Of course, BYOD brings challenges for the IT department, such as working out the best way of managing application access on a variety of devices with different operating systems.

And no self-respecting CIO is going to underestimate the potentially devastating impact of lost or misused company data — not just the effect on an employee’s ability to do their job, but also on the organisation’s reputation and compliance efforts.

But all the same data encryption, secure remote access and remote locking and wiping capabilities used on corporate devices can be installed on personal devices, too.

Desktop virtualisation is an alternative approach, enabling you to keep corporate data safe in the data centre, with nothing stored on the individual’s device.

Whichever route you choose, educating users to behave responsibly is a critical success factor for any BYOD initiative.

There are legal and HR-related elements to consider as well, that are reminiscent of those around whether to provide company cars or expect employees to use their own.

For example, if an employee loses or damages his or her mobile device while on company business, who foots the bill for replacing or repairing it? And where do you draw the line between acceptable use in a business context and storage of personal data on the device?

There’s also the question of which workers actually should be allowed to bring their own devices. In most companies it’s the high-end knowledge workers who’re leading the charge.

But increasingly it’s management who’re asking to use their own devices. Thanks to their children, plenty of senior executives are among the iPad’s greatest fans, and they’re unlikely to take no for a definitive answer from the CIO when they start looking to introduce them into the workplace.

But for task and process-oriented workers, saying no may be the right answer — so part of getting a BYOD initiative right involves understanding which roles it is and isn’t appropriate for.

Given the opportunities and benefits that BYOD can offer, it’s probably a good time to start thinking about whether a BYOD initiative would be right for your organisation, and planning how you could safely implement it.

CIOs who have a clear understanding of both the advantages and the challenges of letting people bring their own devices to work will be well placed to implement the policies and solutions that will make it easy for people work how they want, when they want, securely and effectively.

Liz Benison is vice president and COO for the UK and Ireland region of CSC

Pic: Statsministerens kontorcc2.0