BYOD: The reality behind the buzzword

BYOD is the buzzword and one that IT departments will struggle to ignore as employees demand to be allowed to use whatever device suites them when they go online.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor on

The pluses to a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategy can be compelling. First and foremost, if the employee brings his or her own phone or tablet to work, the company is saved the cost of providing one. Having to provide a new phone for your staff every couple of years is a sizeable expense to free yourself from.

Also, allowing the staff more flexibility be good for staff retention, according to recent research.

But what about maintaining the devices? What about reliability? Who pays the phone bills and who checks the usage? What about liability and security?

The initial issue facing the IT business is that, like it or not, the BYOD phenomenon is happening already. Research conducted by the analysts Ovum indicated that around the world 57 percent of full-time employees use their personal phone at work in some capacity.

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However, within that global figure there are large regional differences with South Korea, for example, the biggest user (around 88 percent of employees there say they use the devices at work for their own purposes) and similar numbers in Malaysia, India and the UAE saying the same thing.

The biggest European usage is in Spain and Russia (more than 50 percent) while the rest of Europe is behind. In the UK just under 40 percent say they use a personal phone for work purposes.

In addition, while the Ovum research indicates that everybody — companies, customers and users alike — agree that more and more devices are turning up in the workplace divisions set in when you start to ask if BYOD is something that should be encouraged.

While 45.8 percent of IT managers said they actively encouraged employees who wanted to use their own devices at work, 28 percent said they ignored the phenomenon and left employees to do what they would, and 17.7 percent said they had no feelings either way on the subject. Only a minority — 8.1 percent — said they actively discouraged it. A recent survey by Cisco and BT also found that some 36 percent of companies were implementing a BYOD strategy — or said they were, at least.

Analyst Gartner has identified a number of tips for employers keen on encouraging BYOD:

  • Maximise freedom of choice A BYOD policy that only allows one style or device will be avoided by employees.
  • Move data into the cloud Accessing data online eliminates worries over data formats.
  • License individuals, not devices If someone wants to change phones every three months, that’s their problem so they need to buy the new phones.
  • Authenticate people and applications Devices can swap between multiple individuals, so you need to authenticate both.
  • Embrace open standards Closed data formats are harder to share across multiple platforms.
  • Manage information, not applications Data is where the real business value lies.
  • Ensured data is encrypted whenever possible Security on mobile devices is tricky, but this helps.
  • Don't try to control what you don't own — and be can do and not can't do

Employers can gain through encouraging a BYOD strategy providing that they take control of it. A survey among SMBs by Spiceworks showed that, overall, 61 percent of SMBs have implemented a BYOD policy or initiative for employee-owned phones, tablets and/or computers. Around 54 percent of SMBs support employee-owned phones and 42 percent support tablets through a BYOD initiative. Fewer companies are willing to support employee owned computers, just 25 percent.

According to the Spiceworks survey, a third of IT professionals say their BYOD policy works well for some devices and poorly for others, while 23 percent say it's a headache for their department. Only 17 percent maintain that they fully embrace the trend.

Of those organisations that support BYOD, only 17 percent are actively managing mobile devices using a mobile device management toolset but an additional 20 percent have plans to address the management of mobile devices in the next six months. However, 56 percent have no plans to implement a mobile device management (MDM) solution anytime soon.

Analyst Ovum also looked at users attitudes to BYOD and one concern was privacy. When asked, "would data privacy concerns stop you using personal apps on a corporate-provided smart phone or table?", 47 percent said it would, 33 percent said it would not.

When asked, "would you find a service whereby your employer could wipe all of your personal data from your own smartphone or tablet useful if it were lost or stolen?" some 48.5 percent said they would.  Some 33 percent said they wouldn't.

Richard Absalom, analyst for consumer impact technology at Ovum, said IT departments were accepting BYOD. "At one time, the devices were seen as just another toy that the CIO would play with and talk about implementing, but that is not true any more," he said.

IT departments, Absalom said, had to remember that it was no longer just a technology issue. "IT has to get the input and the buy-in from the business," he said, and part of the problem was that so many issues were not fully understood.

What is the impact of cost on a business that offers BYOD to its workforce?  "Look at costs," Absalom said. "Phone bills are typically four to five times higher when people use their own devices rather than one provided by the company."

The Boston-based analyst group Nucleus Research conducted a survey on BYOD earlier this year and tried to quantify the costs. While the raw cost of the device is likely to be low — around £150-200 retail cost  which amortised over the lifespan of the device will be around £10-15 per month — other costs can be much higher.

Nucleus said: "One hidden financial challenge with BYOD lies in reimbursing users for voice and data costs which....can be 10 times greater than the device cost." The lesson is that the phone may be cheaper than you expect, but the costs of running it can be way more.

Security was a big and obvious issue, said Absalom, but another was the need for forward thinking. He believed the key issue was applications: "What applications are needed, and what can and should be implemented?"

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