The ABCs of BYOD for the SMB

The ABCs of BYOD for the SMB

Summary: Workers are starting to bring their own beloved gadgets to work. Companies should embrace this, as there are benefits to be enjoyed. This is especially true for small businesses.


It started with phones but is ramping up to include tablets. That's the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement, where employees push for permission to bring their own device to use for work. BYOD can be useful for the small or medium business (SMB) as a way to keep employees happy while cutting costs. Allowing employees to bring their own devices to work is new, and businesses should be thinking of the ramifications to the company.

BYOD is not for everyone

Many employees are perfectly fine with the company handing out phones or tablets to use at work. They don't want to use their own purchased equipment for the good of the company. Others would rather have their own gadgets on hand, even for work, and are willing to use them for the good of the employer.

Dissatisfaction over the equipment used by the company is a common motivator for employees wanting to bring their own device. People buy what they like, and some hate other solutions, especially those provided by the company. Others prefer the simple approach, and just having one device to deal with is better. No more having one phone for personal and another for business.

Think BYOD through before allowing it in the workplace

Companies considering letting employees bring their own device to use for work should first think through the ramifications for doing so. Having employees use their own equipment means clearly defining what that means in practice. People think of their own gadgets as their own, but BYOD is a gray area.

Related: Q&A: What BYOD means for IT

Two things are important for both employees and employers to remember in BYOD situations: the gadgets belong to the employee, but anything created on them for work belongs to the company. That sounds obvious but people tend to think what they do with their own phone (or other gadget) belongs to them. The reality is that any information, whether document, photos, notes or similar content, created at work for work belongs to the company.

This should be spelled out clearly in policies and procedures dealing with the BYOD scenario before kicking it off. Both sides should understand who owns what, and what that means, before the first employee brings the first gadget for work.

When folks use their own devices for work, it is inevitable that they will end up with potentially sensitive company (or client) information on their gadget. This requires sensible procedures to make sure that information stays protected through both company and personal use of the device. These need to be clearly defined and understood before the gadget hits the desk.

Prepare for the unexpected

Certain rare situations will end up happening, and everyone needs to be ready to handle them. Devices are lost or stolen every day in this big, bad world, and sooner or later will happen in BYOD situations. Lay out precise steps for the employee to take when this happens, and when they should do them.

It would help if the personal device could be remotely wiped in the event it disappears. There are apps available for most platforms to do this, and they should be a part of the program from the beginning. While the employee owns (and is responsible for) his/her gadget, any work data belongs to the company and it is up to the employer to protect that.

How to handle down-time

Current gadgets are pretty well-made, but sometimes they fail. This means unplanned down-time as the employee deals with the failed device. Whether that entails a visit to the local Genius Bar or returning the gadget to the manufacturer for repair/replacement, there will usually be a period where the device is not available for use.

The company needs to be prepared to provide a temporary device for the employee to use during such periods. While the personal gadget is the responsibility of the employee, the company doesn't want no work to happen while it is out for repair. That means a loaner of some time to keep the gears turning in the workplace.

The same concerns about company data for missing gadgets apply to those being returned for service. Lay out the procedure for protecting the data before any device is sent out for repair by the employee.

Address potential collaboration issues

While the popular sentiment claims mobile devices are only good for consuming content, savvy users know that is not the case. Workers willing to bring their beloved device to work are probably already creating content on the gadget. It makes sense to understand this will happen, and address it in the procedures defining the BYOD situation.

You don't want your employees suddenly receiving documents or information in formats that can't handle, so define what should be used. It is better to use common formats such as PDF or others commonly used for documents. Dictate what should be used by the mobile worker to keep things going smoothly.

Companies normally load up company gadgets with official apps, so do the same for personal devices being used. This keeps everyone working together smoothly, and shifts the cost of the tools to the employer where it belongs.

The BYOD phenomenon is coming, embrace it

These are by no means all of the issues that BYOD will create, and policies will need to adjust to handle new ones as they occur. This is a totally new frontier for the enterprise, and surprises will happen from time to time.

It is vital to approach this with the proper attitude on both the part of the worker and the company. Do not be too heavy-handed in defining the rules, as the workers are using their own property. Be realistic in doing just what is needed to protect company information, and a happier workplace will be the result.


Topics: Hewlett-Packard, Laptops, Tablets

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  • It's coming but it's up to each company to decide things

    With luck, end users who buy this stuff will remain conscious and deny the tools they buy just to make someone else rich.

    After all, right now, customers are encouraged to do this.

    In the future, it will be mandated. People having to buy the tools to make someone else rich. Don't expect worker wages to go up after this new corporate cost-cutting measure is fully in place, either... trickle-down has been a sham for some time... but that's why the same fleecing was given a new name...

    And there's nothing FREE, much less FREE MARKET, about that...
  • Loaner dilemma

    Not sure I agree with the loaner model outlined. If my car breaks and I can't get to work that's my issue, same thing with if I work from home and my ISP goes down. These are personal responsibility issues, your tablet or smartphone is not the lone method to conduct work and the average household has more than 1 PC. How is any cost savings gained providing loaners? Who manages that, maintains them, refreshes them? How many loaners do you have on hand? How long is it loaned? How do you provide loaners for remote workers?

    The model of employment needs to change with the new workforce. The typical 9-5 / 40 hrs of work payroll model is outdated and impossible to leverage with a mobile workforce.

    BYOD also has some pretty major privacy and compensation issues no one seems to discuss. Being the person running a BYOD program at the Fortune 500 company I learn by example. Keep your work and personal devices separate. There are drawbacks trying to make them blend. People continue trying to make it work and until there are state / federal guidelines about privacy and compensation my work can provide me the tools they deem are needed to perform my job.
  • Just be warned of the stingy penny-pinching employer

    I once worked at a firm where they had no mobile gear at all. One day I brought my own notebook to work to do some things on as I needed to meet with a client at a remote location... and my boss noticed the laptop on my desk. Needless to say from that day onwards my boss was expecting (and demanding) that I use my notebook for work, without first considering to ask me if I could, and without even taking into consideration factors such as cost or support.

    Fortunately I'm no longer working for that scumbag, and my new employer has been far more objective in his approach. Rule #1, provide your employer with an equipment estimate (if asked) to let him know what you need and how much it will cost. Most employers will commit to a reasonable investment if they see a tangible return in productivity or dollars gained. Rule #2, avoid using personal gear for work because of cost, support and security issues. I'm happy if an employer buys me what I need to get my work done - I provide the results my employer is looking for, making me look good and useful. My employer can write off the expense for tax purposes. It also saves me from storing personal files with work-related data on the same notebook.

    Bringing you own gear to work may appear useful at first, but from what I've seen from my experience, introduces far more problems later on. This is especially the case when confronting management that may not be overly supportive or simply has no care. Trying to look helpful at work may in fact make you end up being stupid, especially if it ends up impacting your wallet.
  • BYOD and MAM

    A technology that is going to have a big impact on how SMBs do secure BYOD is mobile application management (MAM). I???m with Symantec and we just recently acquired Nukona. Nukona???s MAM technology allows for all sorts of controls to be applied directly an SMBs mobile apps and data, like authentication, encryption, copy control, as well as a ???poison pill??? in case the device has not ???checked in??? in a prescribed period of time. This is all done without requiring SMBs to manage complete devices. Thus, it???s ideal for personally-owned smartphones and tablets connecting to a company???s resources.

    Spencer Parkinson
  • Disagree

    "BYOD is not for everyone"

    Indeed, I don't think anybody except inept tech media actually thinks it's a good idea.

    "It would help if the personal device could be remotely wiped in the event it disappears."

    Perhaps, but that may be a bit drastic for a device that's meant as a personal device. Yet another reason why personal and business should be separate, not the same.

    Ignoring the importance of people's personal data - not gonna win anybody any brownie points or convince anybody that BYOD is better. It just reeks of "big brother."

    "While the popular sentiment claims mobile devices are only good for consuming content, savvy users know that is not the case."

    Whatever. Mobile devices are [i]capable[/i] of content creation, but that's a far cry from [i]they're good at it.[/i] You're not particularly savvy if you actually think they're good at it.

    "The BYOD phenomenon is coming, embrace it"

    Bull. I think it's very much a fad. It is not coming and it is not inevitable. There are zero clear benefits, and I've yet to see an article that convinces me otherwise. ZDNet has tried to write such articles, but they're full of fluff and unconvincing rhetoric. I want to see even ONE clear benefit. So far, it doesn't exist.
  • BYOD

    There is absolutely no argument for allowing people to bring or use their own gadgets, as you call them, to work. It is difficult enough for the average user of gadgets not to spill all on Face Book and it is the same everywhere in modern (declining) Britain. We are a nation of easy option seekers and that is why foreign workers are getting more jobs; because British kids are not taught anything useful for the work scene. There would be less work done if they were bringing their own gadgets stuffed with all their favourite games. Personal gadgets would not happen in anything that I controlled.