BYOD: The inevitable reality

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.

TOPICS: Tech Industry

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.


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.

Topic: Tech Industry


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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  • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

    We have this and we don't support their devices.
  • Wonderful insight

    So basically BYOD will just happen ... eventually.

    We were early adopters of BYOD, as yes there are benefits. The sad reality is you will have a very small percent of employees who will adopt it. The majority have no interest. They value privacy, they want it if we pay for it all (umm it's called personal liable). They don't want security enforces on "Their" device.

    Some company cultures just don't work for BYOD. Our industry is heavily regulated so we have controls that users just don't want on their device.

    So running our BYOD is costing us money, infrastructure, support to manage it, marketing of the BYOD program itself etc. At some point you just shut it down / scale back due to employees just don't want to participate. So I agree it's too early. There are still tax and worker compensation issues to work through, the mentioned privacy.

    I'm hopeful for the virtual solutions next year but thus far even providing VM View (VDI) and Citrix has not been embraced. Virtual stunts native device functionality. Try using Outlook in Citrix vs. the native email App. Sure it's secure but users don't care about that. They just want to use the device. It's a two way street where IT may need to be more flexible but users need to understand why security controls are in place etc.
  • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

    Can I get my abacus hooked up?

    What about my Newton?
  • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

    "The reality is that companies must find ways to decrease overhead without sacrificing product quality"

    BYOD won't do that. It'll just shift the overhead to their own employees, which means they'll have to pay their employees a bit more.

    Not to mention the [b]added[/b] overhead of supporting and securing a larger range of devices.

    "Each employee might spend $1,000 per year for technology (geeks and technofiles excluded)."

    They might - or they might not. They might spend $100 a year. They might spend $10 a year. Where does the estimate come from? $1000 a year sounds a lot like an estimate a techie might provide, not one a regular person would provide.

    "So what? You get the same calls now for the same devices."

    No, actually, we don't. That's a fabrication.

    Our devices stay on premise, with some rare exceptions, so there's no issue at all with middle of the night support.

    "Hardly any company issues a single standard device anyway."


    "If your company does, it???s in the minority."

    [b]Do you have proof of this??[/b]

    "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."

    No, actually, we don't. You're still fabricating.

    "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?"

    Pretty good, thanks. We can control the security settings and software on the device. It's certainly a lot more secure than most other users using just whatever the defaults are in most OSes. Why are you still fabricating?
    • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

      I don't get why you would ahve to pay employees more? I have 5 jobs now due to no back filling here and no one pays me an extra dime.
      • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

        because you are transferring overhead costs to them. unless they were paid more, hardly anyone would accept paying overhead costs for a company they work for. do you pay your company's electric bill? water bill?
      • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality


        "I don't get why you would ahve to pay employees more?"

        BYOD puts the onus of device purchasing and maintenance on the employee, which means a higher cost to the employee.

        What's happening here is that people are confusing a shifting of costs with real savings. You're shunting the costs over to your employees, which makes your own numbers look better but gives them a higher cost.
    • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality



      Where I work there is not a wide variety of hardware to support. There is the current generation of sanctioned hardware and the dwindling population of the previous generation. When an old generation laptop has issues they blow an OS/application image per user requirements on a new generation laptop and the old one is recycled to the vendor. User downtime and support personnel head scratching over obtuse hardware issues are reduced to the minimum possible level.

      Use of personal devices is prohibited, and network security makes it impractical to introduce unsanctioned hardware. It takes less than a minute for the ethernet port to get locked if an unknown mac address is seen. Everything is scanned for running unauthorized servers/services. The systems are locked down, so a user can't install diddly or even initiate Windows Update.

      However, I do loathe the corporate hardware handouts from a developer point of view. As the maintainer of a unix application the corporate-policy-mandated Windows system provides little use. Having run the corporate gauntlet to get an approved VM for a linux distro was wasted effort, since the system is too slow to be practical. So, I have my own hardware running unix and sneaker-net files back and forth -- that is until security finds out I can do that.
    • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

      You mention the best argument against BYOD. Its exploitative. This is hot because it shifts cost to employees. Essentially reducing their pay while disguising that reduction as an indulgence. I have a relative who is an executive with a bank. They introduced BYOD and took away their company Blackberries. I asked her whether they paid them an allowance for the use of their own smartphones. Nope. Did they offer training to employees on the smartphones of their choice? Nope. Did they offer to purchase smartphones for those who did not have them? Nope. THis was just an unfunded mandate placed on employees. Its essentially a pay cut.

      And in this economic environment companies understand that they don't have to offer employees any compensation for BYOD.

  • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

    while i support BYOD as a concept for employee use, some of your arguments are way off base. Security is a big aspect. There are many ways to secure a device once it leaves the office. A corporate owned device can be mandated to run hard disk encryption, Data Loss Prevention applications, limited software installation. those 3 items alone can protect many devices.

    But those are not something you can mandate to an employee's personally owned computer. An employee has to be given the tools to do their job. I can understand if an employee is a web designer who prefers a MAC and wants to use their personal one, that is their choice and they understand that. But to make someone spend money on a personal machine, and then mandate what will and wont be installed on that machine? Not going to work.

    as for support, many companies order a similar line of products. Your Lenovo Thinkpad may be an X200 while your co-workers is an X208, but they are of similar make and model, and support is extremely similar. that is why companies buy in bulk, that and price breaks.

    I'm all for BYOD, but for convenience, not mandated. Our company moved to this a short time ago, but the company gave each employee a decent stipend that paid completely for the computer. Each employee is given a choice to buy what they want, but we connect thru citrix, so no data can reside on the computer and connection is simple. the computer is pro-rated back over 3 years.
  • The Security Issue

    Hi Dan! It's good to see another one of your articles!

    The perspective offered for the security issue is one based on purely commercial and not secure DoD practice. There are solid reasons why people working in secure programs with DoD security clearances are not allowed to bring any recording devices of any sort.
  • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

    I love being the "dumbest rock in the room". Beats McDonald's any day...

    BYOD is inevitable, but security IS important.

    We need to do all we can to understand and mitigate the unique risks of BYOD where practical, and then get on with Business!
  • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

    Some businesses require certain security that you won't want to do on a BYOD. I don't know about you but I'd rather not have PCI or PHI data floating around on someone's BYOD.
  • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

    We already provide the BYOD as an option to our end users for phones and tablets only. Utilizing GOOD Technology or Zenprise the end user can still have free range on their device and IT still has the option of wiping the device or just the corporate information. An app keeps the corporate email separate from the rest of the phone.
  • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

    What many people fail to recognise is that as an individual I don't want work stuff on my home PC & actually appreciate the distinction between work & home.. So thank you very much I'll keep my managed work PC, and ask for selective work resources on my phone at my convenience..
    fiat 500
    • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

      @fiat 500 I couldn't agree more!
      <strong><a ref="">relationship counselling</a></strong>
  • Anyone asked non-IT folks if they actually want to use their own PC?

    What many people fail to recognise is that as an individual I don't want work stuff on my home PC & actually appreciate the distinction between work & home.. So thank you very much I'll keep my managed work PC, and ask for selective work resources on my phone at my convenience..
    fiat 500
  • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

    I am a big fan of BYOD but as former CIO of a bank I also know the challenges all too well.

    Security is very important and as other have mentioned, sometimes compliance mandates certain security controls are in place that are very difficult to enforce on BYOD.

    I would like to see a smartphone or tablet that could run multiple parallel or virtual instances. One could be locked down to corporate standards in parallel with a second instance for personal owner use. Sandbox the two and allow corporate controls such as encryption, remote wipe and lockout on the corporate instance while leaving the personal instance alone for the user to screw up at their discretion.

    There are now 3rd party applications to manage iOS and Android devices in the enterprise much like RIM's BES server has for a long time.

    VDI is evolving and the latest improvements in protocols and reduction in bandwidth will continue to help it. I use it on my iPad and iPhone and love it but with MS licensing costs it isn't an inexpensive solution for an enterprise to implement.

    We are moving in the right direction. Not quite there yet, but the BYOD story is getting better.
  • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality

    I actually work at a place where this takes place. BYOD brings a new level of stress because the end user doesn't understand what they are buying. You are asking people that don't live and breathe technology to make decisions based upon "I'm and Mac and I'm a PC." Marketing is not accurate, its about selling devices. Our users use an application heavily developed with ActiveX - no mac or linux, only Windows but yet about 2-4 times a month I have a user bring in their new mac expecting me to "make it work." We have a policy that states you have to have a Windows computer with such and such specs but the end user simply ignores it. The issue you are ignoring when it comes to BYOD is how much the end user will obey your policies. Another issue we have with the people that do buy the right device is security. Yup, I said it, but let me explain, they want to isntall iTunes, or a Coupon printer, or LiveWire, and since they "own" the device they do, they demand admin access and who am I to deny them access on their own computer? But again they don't understand that the latest Lady Gaga CD of LimeWire is actually a virus that rips their computer to shreds. BYOD makes the end user think that they are entitled to things because they paid for it, the problem is that they don't always know what is best for them. Having ultimate control over what device they use and how they are allowed to use it gives a standard set of configuration that allows broken devices to be fixed sooner, less issues to actually occur, and minimum level of functionality on all devices.
  • RE: BYOD: The inevitable reality