Is the Bloom Off the BYOD Rose?

The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) work structure has been around as long as mobile devices. It gained a catchy name and new momentum with the advent of WiFi, smartphones, and tablets during the past decade.

The most pertinent BYOD question as we head toward the summer of 2015 is simple: Is the counter-argument to BYOD — that all that glitters isn’t gold (for employers, anyway) — gaining the upper hand?

The fact is that the case against BYOD is pretty strong.

The main attraction of BYOD is fairly clear. Employers save money because they don’t have to buy mobile devices for employees. The savings can be considerable. A secondary benefit is that employees are more likely to use their own devices (and, hence, get more done) than those provided by employers.

This, however, is where the overt benefits end and the difficulties start. The litany of challenging things about BYOD is long.

Here are some of the top things that managers and planners should consider before aggressively deploying a BYOD initiative:

  • Relying on employees’ devices means that an organization will be called on to support an endless array of makes and models. There will be multiple operating systems (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry – and potentially others), bands, and models. Situations will arise in which the organization has no idea precisely what devices are storing and trafficking their data. Oversight can’t be as tight in a BYOD shop as one in which the devices are assigned to employees.
  • When something goes wrong, it will be up to the employee – not the company – to get it fixed. This adds a level of uncertainty over timing.
  • Employees use a wide variety of carriers, making it difficult for the organization to negotiate group rates and otherwise save money on bulk buying.
  • Employee phones, which are host to free and low cost apps, are more apt to have viruses and malware. This is a particularly vexing issue in the security-challenged Android world.
  • The employee-employer can get especially difficult if the phone goes missing: Wiping may be necessary if there is sensitive corporate data on the device. Employees, however, won’t be particularly happy about it. Who has the final say?
  • Organizations often use apps that are customized and connect deeply with enterprises’ backend databases and processes. Not having as much insight into the operating systems and device profile of the workforce makes this a much more difficult design challenge.
  • There are a number of potentially tricky legal issues as well, as Inside Counsel points out.
  • End of employment issues can be particularly thorny, especially if the employee’s departure is less than friendly.

Smartphone companies and the ecosystem that supports them are working hard to eliminate or moderate problems. For instance, the dangers to corporate data and apps introduced by malware that sneaks in on cheesy free consumer apps are largely alleviated by the use of virtualized devices that isolate the corporate and consumer profiles. Though these tools increasingly are available, they are not cheap and require ongoing attention from IT. Here is a good slideshow of best practices from CIO Insight.

The reality is that the bloom is off the BYOD rose, at least to some extent. Another way of putting it is that the best thing about BYOD is the most obvious: big savings on devices. The details, however, paint a much more nuanced picture that can chill a lot of the initial enthusiasm. Dell offers a nice quiz on BYOD that give an organization insight into whether it is ready for BYOD.

Whether BYOD is right for a particular company is an open question, of course. One thing is certain, however: companies need to see beyond that one big advantage in order to make an informed decision about how actively to encourage BYOD.

Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecommunications writer. His work most often posts at IT Business Edge and Broadband Technology Report. He also runs a music website, The Daily Music Break. More information can be found at Weinschenk Editorial Services. He is on Facebook and Twitter.

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