We hear a lot about bring-your-own-device (BYOD) being the new paradigm for workplace mobile devices, but the reality is a messy mix of enthusiastic early adopters, stressed-out IT managers and annoyed staff who want work to pay for a replacement phone as soon as the screen cracks. What makes BYOD so tricky to implement and will the situation ever improve?
Picture by David
These observations come from a press panel session hosted by BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM) in Sydney last week. One of BlackBerry's major challenges in recent years has been the shift from corporate-supplied phones — an area where its management and security tools give it a definite edge — to workers supplying their own handsets. RIM's BlackBerry Fusion management platform allows companies to control a mixed fleet of iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices, but there's more to creating an effective BYOD system than simply having the right management software. Here are ten issues the panel discussion raised.
1. It's not a brand-new phenomenon
The push for BYOD has received fresh impetus from smartphones and tablets, but that doesn't mean that it only happened the first time a CEO decided an iDevice was an essential office accesory. Allan Davies, CIO Asia Pacific for materials handling company Dematic, ran a trial for a bring-your-own-laptop scheme more than a decade ago. (Only one staff member took it up.) "IT departments are our own worst enemy at times because we love to create our own terminology."
2. BYOD is an issue even if you reject it
Different studies suggest different take-up for BYOD. One Asia-Pacific study by IDC suggests 60 per cent of organisations plan to move to employee-purchased phones, but other research suggests lower enthusiasm. The key point is all companies need a policy and a justification for it. "BYOD is a genuine issue for organisations," said IDC analyst Tim Dillon. "Not everyone is going to do it but everyone is confronted by it."
3. We're not quite sure why we need tablets
Actually justifying introducing BYOD for tablets can be difficult, because tablet uses are still fairly rudimentary. "The use case for tablets is interesting," said Dillon. :I'm seeing a lot of organisations struggling to deploy use cases." In many cases these uses are mundane: Dillon pointed to organisations where people check their schedule on their tablet rather than their computer, which does little more than introduce a new screen to the system.
4. Who pays for what is a major issue
. We've noted that BYOD can often result in workers paying for devices or services that are essential for their job. It seems we're very aware of this issue. According to Dillon, one IDC survey of Australian workers found three-quarters weren't in favour, and the remaining staff who liked the idea still said "We're not going to pay for it."
Getting staff to use their own plans and claim themisn't necessarily a saving anyway. "If you start to recharge and expense it, you're merely moving the cost out of IT into finance," Davies pointed out.
5. Security is a delusion
. At management level, everyone agrees that the main issue with allowing people to have their own devices is security. "The real challenge of it is to improve productivity and satisfaction without sacrificing security," said RIM Australia enterprise marketing manager Narelle Behn-Carey.
However, the idea that BYOD phones and tablets introduce fresh security issues can be seen as wishful thinking; they simply highlight existing problems. As Davies put it: "If you think you're secure, you're fooling yourself."
6. Simple annoyances put people off corporate phones
Developing a complex security system is pointless if people find using it difficult, and the evidence suggests that even existing approaches can be offputting. "One thing that impacts use and that end users don't like is the password," said Davies. "Constant locking of the device every half hour is a nuisance."
7. Not all employees want to stick with BYOD
Enthusiasm for BYOD doesn't always last. To quote Davies: "Office-bound employees often go through that emotional purchase of a device. Once it gets a cracked screen they've got their hands out and want their workplace device back."
"Even among staff who recognised the BYOD rules and took it up initially, about 5 per cent come back and say 'take it off' because they've realised you're tethered to work. If you're a junior draughtsman and your phones going off every five minutes, you might not be happy with that.
BYOD makes no sense in high-risk environments. "On average, our engineers go through 1.5 to 2 handsets per year," Davies said. "No-one is going to bring their own device to have it crushed in a conveyer."
8. BYOD may not save company money
Dillon estimates that moving to full BYOD can often cost a company 10 per cent more than supplying phones to staff themselves. "Data and roaming are better on corporate-backed plans. IT departments often say 'I'm going to save a lot of money'. You might save initially, but you're going to pay later on. The minute that device steps out of the country, the roaming costs will kill you."
9. BYOD is just one more nuisance for a shrinking IT workforce
. Even if management systems like Fusion are used, controlling a diverse population of devices is a pain, especially since few IT departments have the luxury of plenty of support staff. "IT numbers are shrinking," Davies said. "I don't have the same headcount as I did before but I'm still running the same number of services. Anything new has to be easy to deploy. I don't have the resources to sit there and manage mobile devices. It has to work and it has to be easy."
Actual hardware support can be a major drama. "When you have to make appointments with Apple 'geniuses', it's a whole different ball game," Davies said.
10. BYOD is a symptom of a bigger problem
. Ultimately, the hunger for BYOD reflects that many companies haven't put enough effort into working out what resources staff actually need. "BYOD is there because we're not creating the architecture for our employees to work properly," Dillon said. "'I can't find the tools I need, so I'll create my own' is a common argument. We need to do better than that."
Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.