In the past a laptop or mobile phone was often considered a business perk, but in an age where mobile devices have become a common consumer item, this is often no longer the case. Many employees now favour using their own devices over those supplied by their employer, a phenomenon that has even generated its own phrase – Bring Your Own Device (or BYOD).
There has undoubtedly been a big shift in the focus of business IT in the last few years. Individuals can now choose from a much wider field of options that allow them to pick their device of choice based upon personal preference. Certain devices, such as Apple iPads and iPhones, have even become real fashion icons, with strong brand awareness that has an undoubted appeal to many devotees.
Choice is a key driver in the IT industry at the moment. Manufacturers and suppliers have worked hard to differentiate devices and software, offering something for most tastes. This has also changed the way we, as users, view technology. The modern worker now often has a preference for the system they know and love.
With these high expectations; being given the ‘wrong’ IT device can actually be a de-motivator for some people (especially as for many workers it is a crucial and heavily relied-upon resource in their daily lives).
BYOD gives staff a direct say in how they work, so if an individual finds an iPad the best way to communicate for example, their share of the IT budget can be spent on that. Another member of the team may prefer a powerful laptop instead. BYOD puts the buying power in the hands of employees recognising that we are all different in the way we work and what motivates us.
Although undoubtedly popular with individuals, the introduction of employee’s own devices to the business network can bring new headaches with regards to security. A recent survey found that 64% of IT managers surveyed thought it was too risky to let personal devices be integrated into the business network (although 52% of companies allowed some form of access). But there is a widespread acknowledgement that it’s a trend that won’t go away.
A global study conducted on behalf of remote access specialist Citrix suggests 94% of organisations have plans to allow their staff to use their own devices by 2013. Some reticence is understandable, but with careful planning it’s possible to make the most of the opportunities that BYOD can offer whilst avoiding the potential pitfalls. As with many trends though, it has its merits and its issues – but what do these mean for your business?
Despite the change of the IT landscape, most devices still rely on security being covered at the ‘end point’, that is directly on the device that users utilise to access the business systems. With company equipment it is easy to specify and install the software that best suits your requirements. With personal devices this can be far from clear and unless you want to enact a strict policy (and possibly shoulder the cost of extending this specified security) it is difficult to be sure of exactly how secure all these end points are.
As well as security, compatibility may also be an issue with a BYOD scheme. Even devices using the ubiquitous Microsoft Windows platform may be using different versions that, whilst they will in all likelihood be able to communicate well with one another, may struggle to run specific third-party or bespoke software.
This potential pitfall has been magnified by the array of popular operating systems finding favour, including the Apple OS (including iPhone and iPad) as well as the burgeoning array of Google Android devices. Effectively, the IT world is going through a period of re-alignment as the scramble in the mobile device sector looks to find a clear winner with regards to software dominance.
One thing is clear – every company needs to be aware of the issues around BYOD and have a solid policy in place to deal with it (even if this is a policy to block the use of outside devices!) This is very much a decision that needs to be taken looking at all the benefits and disadvantages that are applicable to that particular business.
Undoubtedly the younger generation is far more expectant of this flexibility and it can be an important employment bonus for this group. Similarly, for a highly secure organisation this just may not be a viable and secure option and it’s important to make employees aware of the solid reasons for this.
For modern flexible working, BYOD can offer a huge benefit to productivity, allowing employees to maintain a professional relationship with customers out of hours, or when they are offsite for instance. Letting employees choose and purchase their own devices can also have monetary advantages. Some businesses may choose to give employees a budget which offers them the flexibility to look at a much broader range of purchasing options to find the best solution for their IT needs.
Similarly, if employees choose to use their own mobile devices for work this can relax some of the strain on the IT budget in providing company owned alternatives. Ultimately BYOD can offer many new and often exciting ways to make the most of your business systems investment that aid productivity and offer flexibility and choice to your workforce team. As long as the potential risks are prevented or mitigated there is no reason why any modern business should benefit from this evolution in IT services.