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Innovation

Will 'bring your own device' be mandatory in some workplaces?

One cash-strapped California state agency's new policy toward the workplace BYOD phenomenon -- do it, it will save us money.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

Does it make sense to simply require employees to use their own smartphones, laptops and tablets for work without even reimbursing them? At least one cash-strapped state agency is pursuing such an approach.

At the recent Gartner infrastructure conference, Chris Cruz, deputy director and chief information officer at the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), described the agency's new policy toward the workplace "bring your own device" (BYOD) phenomenon -- do it, it will save us money. Plus, the state will no longer even subsidize employees for using their own smartphones for job-related activities.

Network World's Ellen Messmer covered Cruz's talk, in which he admitted that BYOD was the only way to get around the agency's shrinking IT budget -- part of a state budget shortfall of $16 billion.

The article brands the BYOD policy as "controversial," since it is being contested by the unions, as well as the agency's own information security officer.

But such a BYOD policy really isn't that controversial at all.

There is already a huge, immeasurable amount of BYOD devices now being carried in and out of work settings on a daily basis. And at many levels, work and personal activities with these devices are already heavily blended.

For entrepreneurs and employees involved with smaller or startup enterprises, there's no questions about using their phones and PCs for work-related tasks. It's just the way well-connected individuals get things done.

And still, there are many unfortunate employees who are required to carry around two smartphones or two laptops -- one issued by the business, and the one for their own purposes. Does this make sense?

Companies and agencies are recognizing that individual employees are doing a better job of handling and managing their devices than their harried and overworked IT departments -- who need to focus on bigger priorities, such as analytics and cloud. Perhaps at some point this can be recognized at the federal policymaker level -- and employees be allowed to write off part of the cost of their devices used for business purposes, just as self-employed individuals do.

BYOD policies such as that being instituted by this California agency also ultimately provide employees greater flexibility, with the option to work from home or other remote locations. It also reflects the blurring of the lines between work and personal lives. Productivity doesn't necessarily spring from a cubicle, but in bursts. A well-connected employee, manager or entrepreneur shouldn't be cut off at 5:00 pm.

Still, BYOD requires a great deal of attention to security. As Cruz explained, BYOD users would have to agree to have DHCS's mobile device management software installed on their mobile devices, creating a partition between business and personal data, and enabling DHCS "the ability to wipe it if it were lost or stolen." As Cruz explained, "DHCS mandated to have all mobile devices encrypted."

As SmartPlanet colleague Heather Clancy reported a couple of months back, organizations and their IT departments really haven't got their arms around the whole BYOD phenomenon, even though 60% of surveyed professionals were already using their personal devices for both business and personal activities.

Cruz's plan is to phase out the agency's funding of 1,500 Blackberry devices, and plans to extend the BYOD policy to laptops and tablets. While the policy is voluntary at this time, Cruz estimates it has saved the agency up to $500,000.

(Photo: CNET.)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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