BYOD: The inevitable reality

Summary:Who knew that BYOD was the new IT religious war? BYOD is inevitable but the Zeitgeist hasn't quite arrived. Too much FUD and too little history surrounds this exciting new era of enterprise computing.

I hope you watched the live debate: BYOD: Reality vs. Pipe Dream Great Debate between myself and Heather Clancy that occurred on Tuesday October 18, 2011. If you didn't, please take a moment, check it out, vote for your side of the question and then return here to read the summary of my side of the argument. I think BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is a great idea. It's an excellent way to save money and to give employees what they want: device freedom.

The reality is that companies must find ways to decrease overhead without sacrificing product quality. They must increase profitability to attract investment money to continue to grow, to innovate and to explore. One significant way to do that is to allow employees to bring their own devices (laptops, smart phones, tablets) to work and use them.

Economic Reality Check

Think about it from an economic perspective. Each employee might spend $1,000 per year for technology (geeks and technofiles excluded). If a company employs 500 people, that's $500K. Add software and maintenance to that cost and you're now talking about well over $1 million. For argument's sake, let's round it off at $1 million annually.

A small service company, as defined by the Small Business Administration, is one that has annual receipts between $2.5 to $21.5 million, depending on the particular service being provided.

Now assume that the business makes a 20 percent pre-tax profit on its services business that makes $20 million annually. That is $4 million.

Now, move that $1 million spent on end-user devices and support to the profit side of the equation.

You don't have to be an Accountant to see that this move would be significant. And, if the company were to subsidize the purchase with an employee bonus of $500, the total price tag is only $250K. That helps pay for a portion of a user's devices plus leaves $750K on the profit side of the equation. If that isn't a win-win scenario, then the definition of that idiom needs to be updated.

Further, companies that embrace BYOD can help employees purchase devices at discounted prices by leveraging the number of employees who want a particular device. Chances are very good that employees will flock to discounted device deals.

The arguments against BYOD

There are numerous arguments that the usual suspects want to lob at BYOD fans: support nightmares, hidden costs, security. But, none of the arguments against BYOD have any real merit.

The Support Argument

IT nerds fear that they'll get calls in the middle of the night for devices that aren't corporate owned. So what? You get the same calls now for the same devices. Hardly any company issues a single standard device anyway. If your company does, it's in the minority. When I supported end-user devices, I never knew what model, sub-model or vendor built the device I was getting called on.

The reason is that each time a company orders new equipment, the old model is no longer sold. You have to keep hundreds of device drivers, spare parts and support files on hand to accommodate every device type in existence for the past five years. So, support nerds can't use the "standard device" card on me. I know better.

If the end user has responsibility for his or her own device, you don't have to keep all those files on hand. You enable the user to fend for herself by supplying a self-service website that lists simple troubleshooting instructions and manufacturer support numbers on it. If you want out of the support business, then get out of the support business.

And, the next argument is, "What if the user needs a replacement?" Oh yes, that argument. We never kept any 'spare' parts around, when I was in an end user support role and you probably don't either. You, as the company representative, get support agreements up front and enable the user to contact the manufacturer or a representative directly. If you don't want to be a "middle man," then don't be one.

Hidden Costs

Hidden costs lore is as alive and well as any urban legend taken on by TV's MythBusters. Here's a hidden cost for you: Your CEO's Annual Bonus. That hidden cost has nothing to do with productivity, profitability or performance. Any additional costs incurred by BYOD won't be hidden for long. Let's call them 'unexpected' costs instead.

Any unexpected costs associated with BYOD can be offset by the amount of money saved by the company in not purchasing, leasing or directly supporting thousands of devices. Additionally, any unexpected costs will be a tiny fraction of the actual costs of not implementing BYOD.

Security

My favorite non-issue to refute the arguments against BYOD. What security do you have now with your corporate-supplied device? Really? Here's your reality check. When you assign a laptop or a smart phone to a user and that user walks out of the confines of your corporate network, what security do you really have on those devices?

It isn't really a question of security, although security is a default and somewhat 'cute' answer to every question concerning something that IT folks don't want to mess with. It isn't security that you're really worried about. It's control. But, dear my nerdy friend, you don't have that either. Again, once that device walks out the door, you have neither security nor control. Surprise!

It is humorous though, that IT people always say, "Security" just to raise management's hackles. No one would dare refute that ultimate four syllable word that conjures pictures of little floating dollar signs above some evil-doers head.

What isn't humorous is that as soon as someone says, "Security," the most reasonable person in the room has to go on the defensive. That person is usually me but it could be you too. If it is, you know what I mean. The dumbest rock in the room can utter that one word and then you're the one who has to explain himself. It's enough to halt all progress and make you want to find a job somewhere asking, "You want fries with that?"

Let me say here and now that, while security is always a concern, it's no more or less important with BYOD than it is with corporate-owned devices.

The Biggest Problem with BYOD

The biggest problem with BYOD currently is timing. BYOD has the same effect of setting up Star Trek transporters in Malls and expecting people to use them--even free of charge. You'd have a few early adopters but generally people would wait and see. There would no doubt be a lot of people saying they don't trust the transporter (the equivalent of the security argument).

If Heather and I debated this topic a year from now, the results and numbers would be very different. The BYOD concept is ahead of its time. In a year, mobile hypervisors will have a stable market hold and the concept of having a personal and a corporate profile that are securely separated from each other will seem normal. This debate will be a faded memory only to be dredged up by other journalists searching for background info when the time comes to analyze the current BYOD trends.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is what keeps people from embracing technologies that someday will be commonplace. Too bad too. Currently, I have to carry two phones plus a laptop and sometimes my iPad. It makes for a very clunky ride to work.

The Bottom Line

The introduction of mobile provisioning and management technologies which include carrier-supported mobile hypervisors will be as disruptive to devices as VMWare has been to the data center. Once the technologies become widely available, the deployments will follow because at the end of the day, enterprises are cheap and any cost-saving technology is going to be embraced.

My thanks to Heather Clancy for being a formidable opponent and to Larry Dignan for moderating the debate.

Now, tell me what you really think about BYOD. Give me your best arguments for and against it. In a year, we'll take up the topic again and see if you've changed your mind.

Topics: Tech Industry

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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