Mobile Evolution: Striking A Balance On BYOD

Debate about the right strategy to take on sudden growth of IT consumerisation within the workplace and the subsequent ‘bring your own device’ or ‘BYOD’ trend continues to rumble on in the media, as well as in the boardrooms of many modern enterprises.

Unlike other recent IT trends, BYOD raises a very specific set of challenges. In many cases, the questions raised by BYOD extend beyond the remit of the IT department and may require agreement from HR, senior management as well as employees with their own smartphone and tablet preferences.

With time and budget taking precedence over IT strategy, it’s easy to see why BYOD might slip down the list of business priorities. Yet as mobile working continues to accelerate a rapid rate, this could leave those without a clear strategy struggling to cope with the growing breed of mobile-dependent employees. Recent figures from IDC suggest that, by 2015, more than 1.3 billion employees will use mobile devices as a core part of their working lives.

A best-practice response should always be closely aligned with the broader business communications strategy of the enterprise. It should also consider factors such as the need for flexibility, customer service, productivity benefits as well as staff recruitment and retention.

Complementary HR and IT usage policies are also essential so that both employer and employees have the same understanding, reflected in a formal process. A well thought out policy will balance the employee’s demand for device flexibility whilst also minimising the risks to corporate systems and data. So what are the best routes to take?

Rather than struggling to manage a hastily-implemented BYOD policy, a considered ‘choose your own device’ (CYOD) approach can prove a better fit for many organisations. Staff select from a defined, company-supplied range of devices, enabling the IT team to focus on managing, supporting and helping users to get the best out of a smaller set of options, rather than having to get to grips with a broader spectrum of devices.

Alternatively, the company may opt for a strategy that allows the employee to buy their own preferred handset, on whatever contract or tariff. The business then has to enable the devices to access generic business applications such as email synchronisation and bespoke mobile applications. Users are still likely to be subject to internal policies and other requirements defined by the business.

Deciding which strategy to adopt is not straightforward, as there are a number of issues to consider including cost, flexibility and security. From a cost perspective, BYOD may appeal to those who like the idea of the employee paying for their own device, avoiding the hassle of the business having to offer a broader choice in-house.

CYOD can certainly be more costly in hardware terms, depending for example on whether the proposed portfolio consists of substitute or additional devices. Sometimes the option of co-funding can be a workable compromise.

Other cost issues also need to be taken into account. By offering employees a choice from an internally-managed select catalogue, it can be easier for the company to optimise tariffs for business use. End-user support costs and software updates are also much more manageable, as are security risks which can become greater as the number and variety of devices increases.

Younger employees in particular tend to have their own ideas about which IT devices and applications they should be able to use in the workplace, and a more flexible attitude to how they blend their work and social lives. As global organisations move to a more flexible working environment it is critical to profile the workforce. Devices and supporting policies which may be ideal for office-based knowledge workers will be quite different to those for people who spend their time on the road or on building sites, for example.

The best BYOD or CYOD policy will take these differences into account and will deliver the greatest benefit to the business precisely because it is tailored to the needs and demands of individual employees and different teams. It should also be reviewed regularly as the commercial environment evolves and be flexible enough to change as the business looks to improve its competitiveness and attract and retain the best staff.

Andy McFarlane is the head of marketing for Vodafone Global Enterprise, Vodafone’s dedicated business-to-business team working with 600 of the world’s largest multi-national corporations. He is committed to identifying and realising the benefits mobile communications will deliver in people’s business and personal lives in the years ahead.