Unravelling the case for BYOD making life easier

BYOD is meant to save firms money, keep staff happy and be happening at an alarming rate but Billy MacInnes wonders if it will really keep costs down

There seems to be a lot of confusion around BYOD at the moment. If you listen to some people, it’s an unstoppable tide washing over the business world. That view seems to be reinforced by a global survey by Gartner which found a significant number of companies (38%) believe they won’t have to provide any devices to workers at all by 2016.

According to the survey, payments of subsidies to employees to help pay for their devices will also start to decline from the current number of around half of all BYOD programmes.

Gartner VP and distinguished analyst David Willis believes organisations should only subsidise the service plan on a smartphone. He puts forward some strong arguments to support his case. “What happens if you buy a device for an employee and they leave the job a month later? How are you going to settle up? Better to keep it simple. The employee owns the device and the company helps to cover usage costs.”

While I agree this seems like the best way to make BYOD a reality, there are countervailing forces at work here, even within organisations, that might make it very difficult to achieve. And this is likely to become even more pronounced once you extend BYOD to tablets as well as smartphones.

The difficulty for many organisations is that their enthusiasm or acceptance of BYOD is tempered by their naturally conservative instincts. So, yes, they can see the benefits of BYOD from a cost point of view, but too many of them will be tempted to try and restrict the choice of their employees for the sake of security and standardisation.

They are also likely to face an onslaught of FUD from vendors ensconced in the Windows 8 camp who will seek to convince businesses they should adopt tablets and mobile devices based on the Microsoft OS because they are a more “natural fit” with their existing Windows-based IT infrastructure.

While those arguments may resonate with businesses, the fact is many of their employees are choosing devices based on other platforms, most notably Apple’s iOS and Android (especially on Samsung products).

And this is where, to my mind, the idea that businesses can reduce their expenditure on devices by adopting BYOD and getting employees to purchase them, could start to unravel.

Willis says it is “essential that IT specifies which platforms will be supported and how; what service levels a user should expect; what the user’s own responsibilities and risks are; who qualifies; and that IT provides guidelines for employees purchasing a personal device for use at work, such as minimum requirements for operating systems”. The problem is that if IT starts specifying devices too narrowly to the point that employees aren’t prepared to buy them with their own money, then the company will need to pay for them instead.

So there needs to be a balance but the problem is that, judging by the Gartner survey, most businesses seem to want the balance to be tilted so far in their favour that they can dictate what devices an employee should buy. If you remember what the initials BYOD stand for (bring your own device), this pretty much defeats the object of the entire exercise.

And to flip Willis’ argument on its head, what happens if an employee buys a company-mandated device and leaves for another job a couple of months later only to find the device is not supported by the network of his or her new employer? Why would any employee want to take that kind of risk with his or her own money?

In the end, the success or otherwise of BYOD will depend on how willing an organisation is to support different mobile platforms and enable their access to its IT network and applications. If a business seeks to dictate the purchasing habits of employees, it won’t be a BYOD policy but a BOD (buy our device) or SYOM (spend your own money) one. It also won’t be a successful one.

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