Bring Your Own Device: Should CIOs be worried?

iPhone4sNot surprisingly many CIOs will have mixed feelings about the consumerisation of IT and specifically the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend. Should CIOs be excited or worried by consumerisation? Should they be promoting BYOD or playing it down?

The consumerisation of IT is a fairly straightforward concept but one that has potentially far reaching consequences for CIOs and IT departments. At its simplest, consumerisation is about making the hardware and software we use at work more like that which we use at home. The most obvious aspect of consumerisation is allowing employees to use their own devices instead of the standard corporate issue PC, tablets and phones.

So BYOD could result in hundreds or possibly thousands of users trying to connect a wide range of devices to the company network and using them to access and even store company data. This inevitably raises a number of challenges around support, security, data loss, malicious apps and privacy that need to be addressed before you can implement a BYOD policy. Sounds like a potential nightmare for CIOs.

Fortunately there are solutions to each of these challenges although some may sit outside the CIO’s normal comfort zone. For example the CIO will need to strike a balance between security and accessibility. Locking down systems, access points and data will protect the company from potential risks but if the measures are too strict and frustrate users they will also negate some of the benefits of BYOD.

Tools such as the virtual desktop can help address many of the technical and security issues. But they need to be supported with the right network and server infrastructure, which will need upfront investment to implement. This investment could be hard to secure in the current environment.

Increased risk, loss of control and additional investment in the back-end infrastructure are all causes for concern for the CIO. But there are plenty of reasons for the CIO to be excited by BYOD. Top of the list is usually cost reduction. At least some, if not all, of the cost of acquiring and supporting devices under BYOD is transferred to the employee. This can generate significant ongoing savings for the employer. Employee satisfaction will also improve as users get to use the device they like and with which they are familiar and comfortable. This may in turn lead to an improvement in productivity.

There are other incentives for CIOs to consider. It is estimated that 50% of companies are still running Windows XP, which is now ten years old. Creating a business case to upgrade to Windows 7 or even 8 is always going to be a tough job, particularly if your company has also extended the life of its hardware as this will also need to be upgraded or replaced. Implementing a BYOD policy can remove a significant chunk of this investment as the choice and cost of the operating system shifts to the user if they want to use their own device. The investment required to upgrade the remaining PC estate becomes more affordable as a result.

And if CIOs are still unsure about whether they should support BYOD there is one final point to consider: it will happen anyway. In fact it already is happening. Users are already using their own smartphones and tablets with or without the knowledge or approval of their IT departments. So as a CIO, you have little choice but to go with the trend. And it’s always better to lead any such initiative than it is to be playing catch-up.

Any IT function’s main role is to support and facilitate the rest of the business and to ensure the organisation maximises the return on its investment in technology. BYOD provides the CIO with an opportunity to improve the way in which employees engage with and use technology whilst reducing costs. That has to be something to get excited about. So should CIOs be worried by BYOD? Only if they fight it or sit back and let it happen around them.

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