Cheap smartphones and tablet devices, coupled with software designed to meet local business needs, is causing more Indian companies, particularly small and midsize businesses (SMBs) to rethink their reticence toward accepting bring-your-own-device (BYOD) practices.
The trend toward BYOD is beginning to gain increased traction around the world, as companies no longer have to purchase and maintain costly desktop computers. Workers also have more control over the user experience of their computing devices, in many cases Apple's latest devices or one of the many Android handsets and tablets in the market.
For example, Cisco recently announced it has 60,000 Internet-connected devices deployed as part of its BYOD program, with 14,000 iPads and 28,600 iPhones used by the company's 70,000 employees.
However, the BYOD trend has received a cool reception in India.
According to the global non-profit organization ISACA, almost 46 percent of Indian organizations prohibit the use of personal mobile devices for work activities. Some 56 percent of the IT professionals polled also believed the risks of using personal devices for work far outweigh the benefits, it noted.
By comparison, only 29 percent of U.S. businesses have banned BYOD practices, followed by China's 30 percent, and Europe's 29 percent, the study stated. The ISACA 2012 IT Risk/Reward Barometer survey polled more than 100,000 IT audit, security, risk and governance professionals globally.
Avinash Kadam, ISACA Indian task force advisor, said the economics of BYOD do not add up in India, where employees on relatively low wages cannot afford the expensive and powerful smartphones, tablets and notebooks that are commonplace in the western markets.
Furthermore, companies cannot always afford to subsidize the purchase of these devices, and the costs will then be shifted to their employees, Kadam noted
"A computer which costs US$1,000 in the United States will cost the same amount in India, but I'm sure that most workers in India don't earn the same amount as [employees] in America," he said.
Mobisey CEO and Founder Lalit Bhise shared similar observations, saying an iPhone, which costs about US$1,000 without carrier subsidies, is beyond the reach of most Indian consumers.
Indian flavor to BYOD
However, the prevalence of low-cost smartphones, with an Android handset costing about US$70, has raised people's awareness of mobile-based applications, he noted. These cheap handsets, combined with BYOD principles, have provided a low-cost platform for smaller companies to automate their dated supply chain, he added.
Bhise pointed to Mobisy's Bizom software, which allows sales staff to record and manage customer orders in the field before sending it back to their companies' main IT system, as an example. It has signed up over 50 customers, primarily SMBs in Bangalore, he revealed, adding thousands of remote sales staff now use its software to manage their distributors and retailers in some of the most distant parts of India.
For companies who cannot afford to buy and maintain the mobile devices for its staff, they would use financial incentives to get their employees to purchase specific handsets which support the Bizom software--numbering up to 500 different models, he added.
"The theory is that in India, the pre-requisite for field executives is owning a motorbike, which costs up to INR 50,000 (US$920.47), as it is critical to the job. So the thinking goes: 'If they're prepared to buy a motorbike for a job as a field executive, a smartphone costs only INR 3,500 (US$64.43), so why wouldn't they buy it?'" said Bhise, adding this mindset is catching on among local companies.
He added for many Indians, the first devices they come across are mobile phones and tablets, and they are not comfortable using computers. "If you want to automate Indian workforce, the only way to do that is on mobile. And if you want to do it on a mass scale, the only way is to bring along some level of BYOD and some level of incentives," the CEO said.
Manju Gowda, founder of networking startup i7 Networks, added another incentive for employees to support BYOD is for companies to introduce it in a way that does not intrude on their personal experiences.
Six months ago, Gowda and his team developed an algorithm that automatically identifies devices that attempt to access corporate networks. Its software can regulate a specific device's access to data without forcing the user to download a credential or token. All operating systems are recognized by its "agentless" software, he said.
It has since signed up two customers, including an Indian IT knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) company which needs to provide remote access to its workers handling sensitive legal documents, the founder revealed.
To an extent, the traditional top-down forces from the board and executives have pressured IT executives to introduce a BYOD policy. "Anecdotally, a lot of organizations have said that in the next 3 to 6 months they have a mandate from above to completely enable BYOD," Gowda said.
"Everyone is already storing documents in Dropbox and, in many instances such cloud services have already compromised the organization's security," he added.
However, Kadam doesn't believe that India's fear of BYOD, especially among enterprises, will fade any time soon.
"Currently there is still a very big mistrust of using personal devices for your enterprise. It's probably the fear of the unknown, of new things. Technology is changing so quickly it will take time for India to understand that it can be managed," he said.
"It can be secured but, right now, I suppose nobody seems to be taking that chance."
Mahesh Sharma is a freelance IT writer based in Australia.