The flexible meaning of BYOD

BYOD means many things to many people and that just might be the key to its success argues Billy MacInnes

In common with many other commentators, I’ve written quite a bit about BYOD (or should that be COPE?) over the past few months. Anyway, I’m not entirely convinced it will ever work properly because I can’t see employers allowing employees to really bring their own devices to work. The best they’ll get is a bring our device (BOD) or choose our device (COD). As I’ve mentioned before, this will lead to all kinds of horrible complications when an employee leaves one employer that has chosen a particular device to work for another employer that has chosen an entirely different device.

Anyway, there’s a story in MicroScope revealing the results of The Spiceworks 2014 State of IT survey, which shows that smaller organisations are much more in favour of BYOD than their larger counterparts. It found that 83% of companies with less than 20 employees supported BYOD compared to 61% of businesses with more than 500 employees.

Those are both healthy numbers as they show that majorities of small and large businesses are happy to support BYOD. It makes sense that smaller companies might be more enthusiastic as they’re more likely to want their employers to be more mobile and more enthusiastic about the prospect of not having to buy mobile devices for their workers.

Larger organisations, by contrast, will have much more unwieldy and rigid structures in terms of job functions and are likely to have much more complex IT infrastructures.

The Spiceworks survey coincided with the publication of a report from IDC Europe that claimed BYOD adoption was stalling in Europe. According to a report on, the number of European companies surveyed with a formal BYOD policy was 36%, compared to 26% last year. The number planning to create a BYOD policy decreased from 31% to 23% and the number of BYOD refuseniks declined only slightly from 44% to 41%.

John Delaney, associate vice president of mobility at IDC, argued this was partly because European employees did not like BYOD as much as their US counterparts. They were far less keen on the fact that BYOD didn’t just mean bring your own device, it also meant buy your own device. Culturally, European employees expect their employers to supply them with the tools they need to do their jobs.

Delaney also suggested the enthusiasm of European employees for BYOD diminished as they were asked to sign away their expectations of privacy or to have space on their device which was not under their control.

Which is understandable really. But this is another area where the whole BYOD concept doesn’t quite make as much sense as it might appear to at first. I’m not sure employers or employees really grasp the fact that there is a trade-off involved to make BYOD work. If they do, I think both groups tend to think the trading off needs to be done by the other.

Employers expect employees to make concessions to make BYOD work but those concessions often result in being something that isn’t really BYOD. By the same token, employees expect employers to accommodate their devices to make BYOD work but are reluctant to accommodate their devices to make BYOD work for the employer.

I think many people in the IT industry have tried to get around this by making BYOD sound easier than it is and to ignore any awkward realities when they intrude (unless they’re the ones making a living from trying to smooth those awkward realities to fit into the BYOD strategy). They’ve portrayed it as a genuine grass roots movement built on the expectations of new employees but I’m not sure it really is. Do employees in the latest generation of workers really have an expectation of being able to use their own devices for work? I’m sure some of them do, but the majority?

I can see the possible attraction for employers if they can get employees to supply their own devices for work and not have to buy them a smartphone, tablet or whatever but the cost might well end up just being shifted from buying the device to accommodating it.

In the end, I think BYOD is more a matter of interpretation than a clearly defined trend. It is flexible enough to mean different things to different people: employers and employees. That might just be enough to muddle through.

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