In New York City, venerable companies give luxurious corporate cars to power brokers dressed in Armani suits driving down Wall Street. But across the country in San Francisco, you’re more likely to see blue jeans-clad execs driving shared Zipcars to their wacky digs in SoMa, or south of Market.
It’s the perfect analogy for what’s going on with mobility and the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) mega trend, says CIO Ravi Waran at Albemarle, a global manufacturer of chemical supplies. The debate over whether companies should issue corporate-owned devices or allow for BYOD has been heating up lately. Adding a new twist to the debate (and potentially new costs to BYOD programs), late last week the California Court of Appeal ruled that companies must reimburse employees for work-related use from personal mobile devices.
Make the BYOD Debate a Practical One
“It comes down to doing BYOD not for its own sake but really looking at what end effect you want to achieve through mobility,” Waran says. “Take it out of the theological debate into a more practical one.”
Over the past few years, forces have converged to drive BYOD.
[Related: Court Ruling Could Bring Down BYOD ]
The all-important millennial workforce, for instance, doesn’t want to be tied to a cubicle and office hours but instead demands the freedom that comes with mobility and BYOD. Simply put, people love their mobile consumer devices and want to use them for both work and personal activities. They want to be able to access their social networks over mobile apps anytime, anywhere.
Nevertheless, BYOD has come under fire lately. Early adopters have run into a bunch of BYOD problems, such as employee privacy concerns, security measures that ruin the user experience, hidden costs and other unforeseen issues. Taken together, they threaten to derail the BYOD movement. One CIO won’t have anything to do with BYOD, while some BYODers are asking for their corporate BlackBerry back.
[Related: What Is Going Wrong With BYOD?]
Even though Waran champions BYOD, he understands the challenges that keep CIOs on their toes.
Get Your Head in the Game
After months of watching BYOD from the sidelines, Albemarle began rolling out its BYOD program late last year. Since then, Waran has had to strengthen the corporate WiFi network at different sites to help employees stay within their data plans. On the security front, he has had to adopt two-factor authentication and is now piloting virtual desktop infrastructure that will keep corporate data off of mobile devices.
“Introducing a BYOD program will have other impacts you may not have considered,” Waran says.
Today, Waran is knee-deep in all sorts of BYOD-related activity. He’s considering the creation of a pool of mobile devices shared among employees traveling to risky places so that the devices can be wiped upon their return. He’s weighing a partnership with a calling-card company to help employees avoid costly international roaming charges. And he’s evaluating a new service from his mobile device management vendor, Good Technology, that removes corporate data transactions from a personal data plan.
“It’s useless to deploy the technology if you are not prepared for the service requests and support that it’s going to drive,” Waran says. “There’s definitely a ripple effect to be careful about.”
BYOD Benefits Abound
BYOD’s ripple effect, however, pales in comparison to the benefits. There are huge corporate gains from employees using their mobile devices for work, Waran says. It’s conventional wisdom that mobility improves worker productivity and collaboration, and BYOD’s ability to scale the number of people in a mobile network will lead to exponentially higher benefits, a la Metcalfe’s Law.
There are individual worker productivity gains with BYOD, too. A BMC Software survey found that the average BYOD-carrying employee works an extra two hours and sends 20 more emails every day. One out of three BYOD employees checks work email before the official start of their work day, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.
[Related: BYOD Users Work Longer and Earlier]
Before CIOs can enjoy the fruits of a successful BYOD program, they must ward off two giant obstacles: poor usability and hand-wringing over privacy.
Waran was able to tackle these monsters in the early BYOD planning stages so they wouldn’t swamp him after rollout. During the BYOD pilot program, he created a diverse user test group consisting of scientists, sales people and executive admins to evaluate mobile device management solutions. The consensus: Good Technology, because it was the least intrusive on the user experience.
Employees understood that Waran had prioritized the user experience, which would make it harder for them to complain down the road or ask for another solution. In other words, Waran managed their expectations about the impact BYOD would have on their mobile devices and the way they used apps and performed tasks.
“Typically, there is a clunkiness factor whenever you put in another agent between the user and the work the user is trying to do,” he says. “Minimizing this is definitely the challenge.”
With employee privacy, Waran highlighted Good Technology’s use of virtual containers that separate business and personal apps and data on a mobile device. It took some convincing, but Waran says he was able to get the message across to the test group that the company has no interest in what happens in the personal container. Waran assured them that IT has no visibility on that side of the device — not with apps, data, text messaging, email, remote wiping or anything else.
“The CIO needs to get out in front of this,” Waran says. “If you don’t, you will be forced to react under duress and without much time.”
[Related: BYOD Stipends May Soon Go Away (If IT Gets Its Way)
With BYOD privacy, however, Waran isn’t out of the woods yet. For starters, Albemarle operates in many countries that have different legal and regulatory requirements about privacy, as well as restrictions on where data can be stored. Germany and Sweden have arguably stronger regulations than other European Union members. This means Waran must remain diligent that Albemarle stays in compliance.
BYOD and the Law
Then there are the privacy laws themselves, which often lag woefully behind mobile technology.
“The law is not yet mature enough through establishment of precedence in many scenarios, such as the discoverability of data on an employee’s personal device,” Waran says. “This may well be the proverbial tail that wags the mobility dog.”
On top of this, Albemarle has made acquisitions that will double its employee headcount. All these new people with various cultural backgrounds joining Albemarle’s ranks will surely have different ideas about BYOD privacy, given that it’s such an emotionally charged topic.
By now, CIOs have probably gathered that there’s much to be gained from BYOD — but it won’t be easy. CIOs will need to get ahead of trouble areas like privacy and usability and then have to contend with BYOD’s ripple effect. Whether or not CIOs should get on board with BYOD, however, isn’t a question in Waran’s mind.
To wit, Waran offers up another analogy: “It’s as inevitable as plate tectonics. Resistance is futile. It’s like two landscape architects arguing and trying to stop the process.”