Is BYOD a red herring?

red herringBring Your Own Device (BYOD) is without doubt one of the hottest topics in the IT industry at the moment with daily headlines covering subjects such as potential savings, productivity improvements and security issues. Vendors are rushing to develop and release device management tools to assist IT departments with managing a plethora of employee owned phones and tablets. And there is no end of advice for CIOs on how to manage the potential issues and threats that BYOD may bring to their organisations.

And there are many issues and threats; managing access to the corporate network, deciding what apps can be used, what to do if a device is lost or stolen, whether or how to provide support, whether to contribute to the cost of the device, what to do if an employee leaves, how to compensate for data/call costs, etc.

In amongst all the publicity there has been some interesting studies that have looked at employees’ attitudes towards BYOD and the results have been quite surprising. In March this year a study by the research firm IDC found that only 20% of employees want to use their own device for work and personal use. The report also found that it was senior executives, and not younger employees as is often assumed, who were pushing to use their own equipment in the workplace. This backed up a Microsoft sponsored survey carried out in September 2011 which also found that, outside of the IT department itself, it was senior execs that are most insistent on using a personal device for work.

Yet according to the journalists, CIOs and vendors, BYOD is happening all around us, whether IT departments like it or are prepared for it, an increasing number of employees are using their own devices for work. So what is actually going on? My theory, which is behind the title of this post, is that a lot of employees might not actually want to use their own devices for work but feel they have to because they prefer these devices, and more importantly, the user experience they get from using them, to those provided by their employers.

The apps we download to our personal phones tend to be better designed and easier to use than the systems we use at work. The experience we get from these apps is more ‘connected’ and interactive than the experience we get from corporate systems. We can easily communicate and collaborate with family, friends and even strangers using our personal devices but struggle to do this with our colleagues using work systems and devices. We can run almost every aspect of our personal lives from our devices yet so much of our corporate life is still managed offline.

If employers provided staff with a choice of devices loaded with apps that worked in the same way as the apps they download for personal use, would BYOD be such a hot topic? Given the choice between your employer providing you with, say, an iPhone that was supported and loaded with well-designed apps or using your own device that wasn’t supported but which is monitored/secured by your IT department, which would you prefer?

BYOD is in its infancy, in some cases this means it is unofficial and not covered by corporate policy or where policy does exist it may not be as strict as it needs to be. In this situation the employee is still in control and enjoys a high degree of freedom over what device they use and how they use it. But when organisations catch up and start imposing the level of controls necessary to minimise the potential risks, will BYOD be so attractive to employees? So when people are asked whether they would like their employee to introduce a formal BYOD policy, this could be why so many are saying no.

So is BYOD really just a red-herring that is masking a bigger, more important issue: that organisations should be providing their staff with devices that are better suited to their roles and apps that have the same look and feel as the apps they chose to download and use on their personal devices? In which case would organisations be better served focusing their energy, resources and investment on ‘consumerising’ corporate devices and systems instead of wrestling with the complexities and risks of BYOD?

CIOs can’t however just ignore BYOD as it is happening; whether it is formally allowed or not people are using their own devices for work. So the issues that come with BYOD need to be addressed through appropriate security measures, processes and policies. But CIOs should not think that it’s the end point; BYOD is just a step towards the consumerisation of IT (CoIT), which is a much broader and more important change that will bring more significant benefits than BYOD. And if it’s done correctly CoIT could render BYOD irrelevant as employees will be getting the same experience with their work devices as they do with their own devices and will not need to bring their own.

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