Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to debate the pros and cons of the "bring your own device" (BYOD) movement with my fellow ZDNet blogger Ken Hess. My position was that this is a pipe dream for most companies, because of the inherent management challenges.
Mind you, I love the spirit of this idea, I just think it is unrealistic without some serious attention to the infrastructure and support policies within your organization. There is one really good reason not to let employees use their own smartphone, notebook or tablet at work: It is a management nightmare.
For starters, there are inherent security and regulatory compliance risks. Even if you mandate certain products or technologies people can bring and use, it will be next to impossible to make sure everyone keeps their machines updated with the proper OS and application patches. Unless you have control.
Don’t expect to save money, either. Many businesses supporting BYOD expect employees to buy and support devices on their own dime. But infrastructure and security policies need to be rock-solid behind that. This takes investment and new IT management policies. Is your organization ready?
Be honest: Do you want someone telling you what you can and cannot do with your personal technology? BYOD seems like a great idea for productivity, until you try manage it.
Still, while I don't think the "Bring Your Own Device" mantra is one that will or should be embraced by every company, small and midsize businesses should be prepared to feel its impact in the following ways.
#1: Your technology upgrade cycles will be shorter Forget, three to five years. Most smartphones are turned over every two years (at the most), because of carrier contracts. That means employees will be exposed to new features more quickly. Think about the evolution of Skype. It started out as a consumer service, but small businesses quickly figured out it was a way to save money and they started using it for that purpose, even before it was designed to do so.
#2: You will need to support more devices, not fewer Some of the other writers here on ZDNet love to declare the demise of the BlackBerry, and they love to dispel the notion that Windows mobile editions will count within a business setting. Even if your company chooses not to let employees bring their own smartphones, consumer tablets or notebooks into their work setting, it will need to consider adding more devices to the menu that it will allow people to use while they are on the go. Consider this an evolution of your corporate benefits or perks strategies. People should be able to choose their own device for work, even if they don't own them outright.
#3: You need to rethink how you distribute applications Thanks to Apple, most of us have become really familiar with the idea that you can download pretty much any application you need from searchable store. Over time, employees will come to expect the same from our IT team. Updates and upgrades will be enforced through alerts, much like the store concept.
#4: You can't ignore mobile security Mobile malware and antivirus software packages exist, but they haven’t been widely used. If you allow people to bring their own mobile device, that needs to change. What's more, your organization will need to govern what data can and cannot be downloaded locally. That's especially true in certain industries, especially healthcare or financial services.
#5: You need to rethink the concept of mobility. IDC expects the number of mobile workers worldwide to surpass 1.2 billion by 2013. But what does mobility really mean, anyway? Why would you provision someone with a desktop computer -- even if it is a person who traditionally works in a back office position -- if there is a chance that he or she might need location flexibility in the future? After all, Forrester Research predicts that up to 60 percent of information workers will need to work in some location outside their office during the average workweek. Does that number jibe with the number of notebook computers, media tablets or smartphones that are available to employees within your organization?