Should You Embrace a Bring Your Own Device Policy?

Could your business benefit from a bring-your-own-device policy?

I was not the happiest employee when I was told to bring my own pens to work. And I was even less impressed when I had to buy my own training material and later was asked to share it with my co-workers.
So you can imagine how I felt when told about a new and growing IT movement known as bring your own device (BYOD). But after some investigation on the topic, I think it’s something I can get behind.
If any business can find a solution that not only reduces its fixed and variable expenses but also helps attract key talent, then we’re looking at a real win-win. BYOD is the next step of the commercialization of IT in the office, and if you don’t think it’s happening where you work, look around — I bet most everyone checks their smartphone during 
the day.
In a nutshell, BYOD is an initiative whereby an employer offers a set expense amount to employees so they can buy any computer (or tablet) device they choose. Staff members top up the value if they’re considering a high-end device. This is generally coupled with a shared model of paying for data plans and support agreements. This allows staff to choose a device they prefer which will provide a level of mobility and functionality that will allow them to do their job best.
Your staff members likely bring their own devices to the office, anyway, so you may as well embrace it. If you aren’t proactive in creating policies and setting up an environment (Wi-Fi, at the very least) to support BYOD, it will happen to you, regardless.
Skeptical? Think about how long it’ll be until the president comes to you and says she wants to use her iPad for meetings and for you to get her e-mail set up on it. At that point, you’ll be glad for any advance work you did to prep for a BYOD policy.
{advertisement} Some companies choose to ban staff members’ use of personal devices at work. This is one school of thought, but I would suggest not necessarily following that lead. Staff will bring in their own devices, anyway, and higher-ups will generally get what they want, so it’s best to be prepared. As a matter of fact, a BYOD policy will likely help you recruit progressive staff from other 
companies that choose not to deal with 
this issue.
Also, being one of the first companies in your market to offer a BYOD policy will provide you with a reputation both internally and externally as a first mover. In IT, first mover advantage is vital, as the speed of technology is extremely hard to control or maintain. You can easily research this point by using your Netscape browser to access the WebCrawler search engine and then update your MySpace account.
At first look, BYOD seems simple enough to deliver: give staff a set expense amount, a Wi-Fi access point, and off they go. In actuality, it’s a lot more complicated, but don’t let the upfront work scare you. As previously mentioned, the commercialization of IT is upon us, so you need to get your ducks in a row now.
Below are a few of the challenges you’ll need to work through, and also some action items to ensure you and your staff mutually benefit from this initiative.
Security. Some devices are not as secure as others, so you need to be concerned about access to your company’s information. Also, what happens if an employee loses the device, or is terminated, and your information is still on their device? A remote wipe solves most of these issues, but that needs to be clearly communicated with staff as they will then lose all of their personal information. This includes that priceless video of Uncle Steve having too much eggnog and knocking over the Christmas tree.
Application functionality. If you have critical applications, ensure you know what devices can run them before you tell staff to buy whatever they want.
Taxes. There could be tax implications for staff if these devices are seen as benefits by you-know-who.
Device functionality. Ensure the device they want supports the work they do. Apple’s iPad is cool, but is it the best tool for someone in a data-entry position?
Support. This could be the major issue if you get into BYOD. As new hardware is released continuously, keeping a help desk up to date on how to fix these devices is an insurmountable challenge. The historical solution has been creation of a standard so that everyone would have the same hardware and your help desk staff would know how to fix it. A BYOD solution introduces a potpourri of devices, so when hardware issues arise, it creates the potential for the help desk and your staff to get along about as well as a cat and a vacuum. The best solution to this challenge is companies that provide the service of supporting just about every piece of hardware. This external service vendor is to the advantage of your staff, as well, as it means any problems they encounter on a weekend can be fixed quickly.
If you think BYOD may be for you, consider the items you need to have in place to ensure its success:
Action Items

  • Ensure your environment has scalable and secure access points to support many devices.
  • Clarify with staff how much the company will pay for maintenance and data plans.
  • Clarify software license rules, and ensure departing staff have applications and licenses reclaimed from their device.
  • Define the scope of IT service support responsibilities.
  • Don’t forget the always-invigorating process of creating policies to ensure clear expectations. Always start with an acceptable-use agreement.
  • Look at the possibility of a hosted virtual desktop solution (Citrix, Vmware, etc.) to store applications in the cloud (instead of on your staff’s device). This can prevent a lot of security headaches.
  • A relatively new idea that’s gaining traction is an “enterprise app store.” This is an internal web page that offers a single download point for all the corporate apps employees can access.

Now I am off to meet with my boss to convince him how my productivity will greatly increase by getting my work done on an Xbox.
Doug Caton is a Victoria IT manager.