BYOD: 10 reasons it won't work for your business

BYOD: 10 reasons it won't work for your business

Summary: Bring your own device (BYOD) may hold out the promise of cheaper, more flexible IT, but it won't work for every company - here are some reasons why it might not suit you and your business.


Letting your staff use their own smartphones, laptops and tablets can make them happier, more productive, cut business costs and even help attract new talent – but there are a potential disadvantages too.

Here are 10 reasons why bring your own device (BYOD) culture might not work for your organisation.

1. Staff resent paying for their own phones, laptops or tablets

BYOD is attractive for employers because they can use it as a sneaky way to get staff to pay for the tools they need to do their jobs.

Mobile worker
Bring your own device (BYOD) may hold out the promise of cheaper, more flexible IT, but it won't work for every company.
For example, around 40 percent of tablets are bought, with their own money, by people who intend to use them only at work. But unless the employer starts offering cash to staff who go down the BYOD route (and not all employers do) many employees will reject BYOD because they quickly realise they are effectively subsidising their employer profits.

2. It won't cut your costs

Three-quarters of IT directors worry that BYOD will cause IT costs to "spiral out of control", according to a recent survey for IT services provider Damovo UK. Because businesses lose the ability to cut costs through bulk buying, they can end up paying over the odds for call and data plans, for example, if staff claim these costs back as expenses.

3. It can make life harder for the IT department

Letting staff use their own gadgets could rapidly turn into a headache for IT. While many corporate BYOD policies expect staff to support their own equipment, seven out of 10 of the IT chiefs queried in the Damovo poll expected no cut in IT support costs as the IT departments will still be the first point of call when things go wrong.

Adding new security measures to cope with the influx of consumer devices is another big short-term cost: new software on the corporate shopping list could include mobile data protection, network access control and mobile device management, plus the sheer hassle of configuring access privileges on an individual device basis.

4. Corporate-issue IT makes sense for the same reason schools have uniforms

Allowing BYOD can unintentionally create an uneven playing field between staff in your organisation. If one worker spends a lot of money on a high-end device so they can get their work done quicker, this could lead to huge resentment - and a computing arms race - as other workers scramble to catch up.

If staff find themselves having to spend more of their own cash to keep up with their colleagues that's sure to be bad for morale (even if productivity rockets). In contrast, using corporate-issued IT avoids the problem in that it's a bit like wearing a school uniform – it might be bland, but at least everyone looks equal.  

5. Security problems

Security is one of the biggest issues with BYOD because allowing consumer devices onto corporate networks brings significant risks - unless managed correctly. That makes it a no-no for staff who are dealing with sensitive personal or commercial information.

IT organisations will need to set strict and enforceable guidelines for staff, and that means staff have to be vigilant about security, whether they (or their family) are using their device for work or pleasure.

Because the IT department has less control over the devices used by staff, much of the responsibility for security will be with the individual: for example, they will have to ensure their devices are patched, perhaps encrypted, and have up-to-date antivirus software running.

For the individual user this is a major headache, as failure to do this could lead to the device being banned from the corporate network, and result in a productivity drain for the company. Many users may see this as too much of an overhead – and stick with the standard offering instead. Unsurprisingly, IT is worried – according to a recent BT survey only one in 10 IT managers believes BYOD users understand the IT risks involved.

6. Data loss – yours and theirs

As well as the risk to enterprise systems, there is the risk that sensitive data could be placed on staff devices, and lost. While there is plenty of mobile-device management software that can reduce the risk, staff may be reluctant to grant IT access and oversight to what is their own device. And enterprise IT chiefs have to be careful to protect corporate data (by doing a remote wipe when someone leaves the organisation) without running the risk of compromising the individual’s data too (by wiping all their holiday photos at the same time).

7. Short-term gain, long-term pain?

The upside of BYOD is going out and buying a shiny new laptop to show off in the office. And it's even better if a corporate BYOD policy means it's subsidised, too, which is why BYOD has been so attractive to staff.

But after the honeymoon the day-to-day reality may be slightly different, especially if staff make bad choices and their new kit doesn't perform as they hoped. The trouble is, once staff have spent the money, they're on their own, and IT – and the boss – won't be pleased if their work performance suffers because they've chosen bad tools.

For example, buying a Windows 7 laptop might have saved someone a bit of money, but if everyone else on the team is using a shiny new iPad and they can't collaborate effectively, the long-term costs to their career will outweigh the savings made.

8. It’s a licensing – and legal – minefield

Switching to BYOD means you have to keep an eye on licensing too. IT needs to make sure it has enough licences for all the BYOD kit, which can eat into the cost savings.

Under some licences, the software can only be installed on devices owned by the business, which is another complication, although desktop virtualisation can help with these problems. Also there are other legal issues – it's unclear for example who would be liable if a device used both in work and at home was also used for illegal downloading.

9. Consumer devices will hurt productivity

There's a reason why business devices are boring – they're for business, not pleasure. There's a risk that if you encourage staff to bring in their own devices that are more suited to watching videos, playing games and keeping up to date with their digital social lives, they will do just that.

If you are working on your shiny new iPad instead of on your dull office-issue laptop, the temptation to click on one of those fun apps (a game of Draw Something, anyone?) is one that must be resisted.

10. Your staff don’t care about gadgets

We tend to forget, but not everyone is a tech obsessive. Many workers may well look at you incredulously when you tell them they can bring an Apple to work instead, and will probably think you're telling them to go on a diet.

Topics: Tablets, Consumerization, Security

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  • At last, some common sense.

    For months I've been complained about the cheerleading done by ZDNet about BYOD. The bloggers look at BYOD as some kind of panacea without even considering any other viewpoint.

    It's about time someone actually posted a business worthy article rather than some tech head getting all excited about being able to take their latest and greatest into the office to show it off (or more likely, in an average workplace and not a tech journal, BORE people to death).

    good show.
    • Divided...

      I agree with you Bozzer, finally a BYOD article that looks at some of the issues with BYOD and doesn't look at it through rose tinted glasses.

      As a user, I'd love to use my own equipment, rather than the second rate stuff that many employers foist on their employees, on the other hand, having run IT departments, the thought makes my skin crawl.

      Security and the legal / licensing issues are the biggest blockers.

      In the late 90s, I was working on a customer site on an OLAP database. The customer didn't want to upgrade the servers as they were still not written off. Recalculating the database was sloooow. In the end, I'd take a copy of the data on a Zip cartridge, drive home (an hour), recalculate the database on my home machine, put the new image on the Zip drive and drive back to the office. Even with the 2 hours of driving, that still saved us around 5 hours per calculation run! Naughty, but it was the only way to get the job done in a reasonable amount of time...
    • BYOD != Microsoft

      usually at least why the IT staff resent BYOD so much, it's threatening their jobs. =)
      • have you ever had an IT job?

        it is always better to express opinions on the matters you have at least some experience with.
        • Same opinion...

          and I've worked in IT, serving over 125 machines in a larger environment with thousands of total computers. Yep, IT is the problem.
          Tony Burzio
        • he would rather grin

          Than to get any real experience... it is more fun for him to be ignorant and a real "D"...
      • The best way to get anything done

        is to find a way around IT. It's been true for the 20 years I've been in my field.
      • have you ever had A job?

        Such disdain over people who work for a living your =) is as devolved as it gets.

        Grow a work ethic, stop grinning over people who do work for a living, and grow the bleep up. No, you do not deserve respect- you definitely have not earned it.
    • The problem is, both sides are engaging in a false dichotomy

      An effective BYOD policy is to provide company equipment, but allow the employee to use his own IF HE WANTS TO, and YOU TRUST HIM TO BE RESPONSIBLE ABOUT IT. My work issues me a piece of crap Dell. I would love to use my Macbook Pro. I bought it for my own use, but it's also about five times better than the cheap piece of junk the company issued me. I know enough to lock the machine down to keep corporate happy. They should let me use it, and free up that laptop for someone else. Both parties win.
  • A few flaws in the logic...

    1. "Staff resent paying for their own phones." Many would do this even if their employer bought them a Blackberry. Why? Because they didn't [i]want[/] Blackberries for their personal use. Android and iPhone offer a much wider variety of apps, functionality and social networking. How many people do you know that still do the "double holster" like some wild west gun figher?

    2. "Consumer devices hurt productivity." See my points above. If someone wants to waste time at work playing Angry Birds or on Twitter, Facebook, etc. and you provide them with a company issued device, guess what? They're going to do it anyway, most likely on their personal device. Productivity should be managed by managers. If you have to rely on IT to block apps and websites, you've already lost. Not to say that it's not good practice to block certain resources, but if your method of enforcement is IT, you likely have a management culture that doesn't want to manage their staffs. So, they may not waste time playing Angry Birds, but they'll likely just substitute water cooler gossip or something else to avoid work.

    4 & 10 contradict eachother. So not everyone cares about technology, but those same people who don't opt for the latest and greatest are going to be jealous of those who do? Are those non-gadget people really going to be hindered by slower smartphones? Not likely, they aren't the types who would (or want to) fully leverage high end models anyway. And, how's this any different from a single, 28 year old employee regularly burning the midnight oil to get ahead while his 31 year old married with children co-worker can't make the same time commitment because s/he has more personal responsibilities to balance? Sure, it's not a direct monetary investment, but what's more of an investment, an extra $100-200 every couple of years to get a high end phone, or routinely working 60+ hour weeks?

    Look, I'm not saying there aren't unique challenges and obstacles that come with BYOD, but let's not invent issues or blame BYOD for issues that would exist in its absence. There's no one-size-fits all solution. No matter whether you choose BYOD or company issued, some people will be happy, some will be indifferent and some will be unhappy. You could just as easily find someone who is pissed because they "have to" get buy their own phone because they don't like using the company provided make/model for personal use, the company locks down certain functionality, the company won't let them get certain features (e.g. mobile hotspot) that they want, etc.
    • Where I work...

      Everyone who is bringing their own device is someone we would have purchased a company phone for...but they did not want it. I am one of them. I do the buying for my organization and my boss told me that it was up to me if I thought I needed a phone, tablet etc and that if I felt like I did that I could just do it.

      But I chose to buy my own phone and tablet. Why? Well, with the company devices we have some pretty strict rules on personal vs. company use. Basically the company device is for company business only - meaning that I would still want to have my own devices for my personal use. I have to be on call some times so even when I'm off I may be required to be available for company business (which is why I could have had one) - meaning I'd have to carry the company phone around. I really don't want to carry around two phones so it's just plain easier for me to use my personally owned equipment.

      As far as corporate IT supporting it? Well that would be me too. But devices connecting to our systems are automatically pushed out our security policies anyway. And for the others, supporting their personal device isn't any more difficult than the company ones anyway.

      Anyway, the bottom line is that in our organization, if a phone is really required for someone's job, we will buy them one...if they want it...which so far not one person has taken us up on other than our CEO.
      • On the otherhand

        If the company is not paying for the device or the data plan then they do not have a right to really complain about how it is used. Take the Sprint commercial, every time I watch it I think "Well, since the phone and data plan is owned by the employee, who could have been already locked in by a contract, then the employee can put whatever pictures they want. You want a say on how they are used, you pay for it." Not every company has unlimited data plans. Some did but dropped them as usage went up. Plus, not every company using BYOD is is willing to help with any of the costs because that would defeat the cost savings to the company.
  • You completely ignore the top reason: LEGAL LIABILITY

    BYOD will open up a pandoras box on liabiltiy for the company ... and not only on the posibility of the person doing something ilegal (like downloading child porn) on his own device.

    What about accidents, where the person can claim that he was "doing work" on his device when the accident happened (even if it happen at his own home)? Or the insecure device, now containing sensitive/propietary info is stolen or lost?

    Maybe it is OK for a mom & pop shop. But for a corporation, the liability is too high and the savings would be totally minimal (if any).
  • Number 11

    When the employee leaves, his device and what ever may be on it goes with him / her.

    Yeah I know, in a perfect world everything gets copied to company servers daily. Problem is, this isn't a perfect world and most people like to retain pieces of information to themselves, say a customers wife or kids names, birthday, or other information that helps lubicate business dealings.

    Well before there were personal devices there was a court case where the company (Dow Chemical) sued an ex-employee (salesman) to get his "black book" and customer list. The list didn't exist anywhere but with the employee. The company lost the suit.
    • BYOD isn't the cause...

      OK, so you issue phones and don't let people bring their own. What's to stop someone from e-mailing files to themselves, moving them to a USB drive or storing them off the company grid in something like DropBox, maintaining contacts on their personal phone/computer, etc.?

      This is considered "rogue" or "shadow" IT and is almost impossible to prevent other than through strong policy enforcement (e.g. firing people caught). It can be done with or without BYOD, and depending on how BYOD is implemented, may not be any easier or harder to do on a personal device vs. a company issued one.
      • It can be done

        We have forwarding email to external email domains blocked. We're about to block all attachments in email. USB ports are all locked down and only select few can use them (with encrypted USB sticks)

        All public cloud sites are blocked with our internet proxy appliance. Are there ways to get data outside of the corporate network? Sure but the current corporate policy makes it very clear that would result in termination and lawsuit.
        • May be good for your company, may not work for others..

          It is possible that an iron-fisted security policy will work in your business. That doesn't mean that it works everywhere.

          It is also possible to prevent credit card and cheque fraud and theft by cashiers by putting in place a customer approval process and a policy of only accepting payment by wire transfer or EFT. This works great for a number of my clients who are energy companies and do few high-dollar trades with a small number of customers. This same policy would be suicide for a retail establishment.

          There is a cost for a policy such as the one you describe, especially if that policy doesn't jive with the company's culture or computing needs.

          I've seen first hand the damage that can be inflicted on productivity when IT takes it upon itself to "secure" the network in every way possible. Often it is far greater than the likely damage that IT is trying to prevent.
        • But I'll bet you issue your company laptops so employees can take them home

          to get more work done. And there goes all your security lockdowns as your disaffected employee plugs his laptop into his home network and copies all the files he wants over to his home computer.
  • One reason your top 10 reason list doesn't apply...

    Top reason #1: You don't know *MY* business...

    "piousmonk" above said it better than I could have, but the bottom line you have to remember is that every business is different - for some (even some bigger ones), your points simply don't apply, and for others, they apply 1000%.

    Truth be told, many of the points you list (which I'm not disputing, especially for larger organizations are absolutely valid) come down to company culture, or the type of business that they are engaged in. For many of these firms, not only is BYOD encouraged, but it is handled in a very open manner.

    In the case of our office, instead of restrictive security policies or internet access blockers, we have a compensation scheme that is directly tied to our productivity and client satisfaction standards, which already naturally limits "inappropriate use of company time". We also have internal systems in place that help keep most sentitive or important data central rather than risking that data "walk away" with employees who leave.

    As far as data security goes - yes, there is some risk with devices connecting to the local network, but really there isn't any more risk than, say, employees being able to email files out of the office to thier home computers. There are a million ways that sensitive information can leave the office already; preventing users from bringing their own devices is hardly going to extend this security issue too much further.

    Again, depending on the company, this may be acceptable. Whether it is or not will really come down to the type of company you are, the type of employees you have, and how your company culture dictates how your employees handle company data.
    • True for a lot of stuff ZDNet touts as fact.

      "Top reason #1: You don't know *MY* business..."

      True for a lot of stuff ZDNet touts as fact. In fact, one of the most annoying things about ZDNet is the constant overgeneralization. Trends are claimed to be "inevitable" even when they're not. The authors almost never consider exceptions or individual needs. It's really annoying.