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Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: CES 2016: The Business Gear

Why BYOD spells good changes for IT

Enough with the fear and loathing of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. Your IT staff should be happy about the shift in responsibilities.

Image: iStock/Timur Arbaev

Customized computing was once the domain of hard-core techies, but now that these devices' screens are often the first things we glance at after waking up and the last screens we see before going to sleep, the tech has become expressions of who we are.

Businesses must connect with employees on their computing home turf rather than require them to use a standard PC and company-approved (and perhaps outdated) software suites -- it would be like demanding everyone wear the same navy blue suit; plus, employees are more productive and comfortable in their preferred hardware and software environments.

In offices, it's not unusual to see a laptop adorned with stickers, a smartphone in a custom case, or a device running Linux or a so-called Hackintosh running Mac OS X on PC hardware. In my case, I might be on my Windows 10 desktop with a wonderful 34-inch monitor, or my iPad over a shaky cellular wi-fi connection in a client's office, or a MacBook Air from a cramped airplane seat, and using an iPhone or Android phone everywhere in between. In all cases, I can readily access my company email, and most work-related applications require nothing more than a web browser.

A shift to IT services

As this shift to more personalized computing has occurred, IT has moved to a more services-oriented approach. Whereas IT once built and maintained dozens of company applications, many organizations now buy a multitude of software and services run by someone else, and that are accessible from anywhere. For many employees, a web browser is the only software they need to perform their jobs and access everything the company provides.

In this environment, taking on the challenge of maintaining a huge pool of end-user hardware is a burden with little benefit. In transitioning to services, savvy IT organizations have designed their architecture to put security at the application level, rather than assuming a secure network and secure devices. If your core applications can safely assume no end-user device can be trusted, then there's little difference between carefully maintained corporate desktops and an employee-provided device accessing those same services.

Even employees who have no interest in bringing their own devices to work or connecting them to company services can be served using BYOD techniques. Creating secure and readily accessible services is just as effective for my MacBook as it is for a desk-bound employee's company-issued Dell. When an employee's documents and data are stored on an internal or external cloud, that employee can hop from device to device and get their job done without needing to provision software or waiting for IT to set up their environment for them.

BYOD is the future of end-user IT

The initial reaction to BYOD was one of fear and loathing. An employee who once had a well-controlled company machine can now connect up to a half-dozen devices, and theoretically demand support for everything from Android to Linux. However, BYOD is not all about employee satisfaction.

IT can continue to provide effective application support, while largely 'outsourcing' hardware provisioning and maintenance to employees and vendors. Employees generally tolerate the fact that by bringing their own device, they're also bringing their own support. IT resources that once spent their days reimaging and inventorying old machines can now apply their skills in a more interesting capacity.

With foresight and smart policies, BYOD can make life easier for IT organizations and employees. IT gets out of the business of maintaining and provisioning hardware, and employees can perform their jobs on their preferred hardware and software platforms.

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