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.
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.