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Why businesses are embracing bring your own device

Empower employees, increase productivity
Published: 
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Technology Matters
Image courtesy: BrightPath Foundation

Businesses around the world are increasingly allowing more employee devices in the workplace. A recent Ovum study has found that the bring your own device (BYOD) trend is accelerating at a faster rate in emerging markets. Some see BYOD as a disruptive change, driven by employee enthusiasm for new gadgets and technologies. However, with the demand for mobile computing devices such as tablets and smartphones only expected to grow, this is not likely a passing fad. Companies will do well to have a clear strategy to channel employee preferences into corporate benefits. 

 
 
 
The coming BYOD wave 
 
The US-based Consumer Electronics Association estimates that more than 75 per cent of gift-giving adults plan to purchase consumer electronic products as gifts this year. They further predict that during Christmas alone some 32 million tablets will be sold in the US, up more than 110 per cent from last year. Most of this gift-giving cheer will flood enterprises in early January challenging corporate IT departments with security and integration responsibilities. 
 
 
For decision makers in small to large firms the questions should be the same: Is my organisation ready for the onslaught? 
 
 
 
Have a plan 
 
Key to corporate BYOD readiness is development of corporate policies that spell out rules regarding use of personal devices. BYOD policies should detail, for example, how personal devices access corporate resources; security requirements and procedures; and personal rights and responsibilities. 
 
Interestingly, a Network World survey earlier this year found that only 16 per cent of the participants said they have BYOD policies in place. According to Network World, if only 16 per cent have taken this basic step, we can assume companies: 
 
1) are hoping against hope employees will heed the corporate ban against using personal devices for anything work related 
 
2) have faith that the security controls they have in place can prevent said use 
 
3) don't perceive it as much of a threat 
 
4) don't have a grasp of the magnitude of the problem or the risk, or 
 
5) a mix of 1-4 
 
I would be the first to say that faith and hope have a place in life, but so does wisdom and strategy. The same applies to business. For businesses to derive the benefits of BYOD phenomenon, they should have a structured, strategic approach managing personal devices in the workplace. 
 
Organisations in emerging markets in particular should take steps to leverage employee owned devices and protect corporate networks and information systems. 
 
The Ovum study confirms that BYOD is gaining ground in emerging; high-growth markets. According to the study of 3,796 consumers in 17 different countries, employees in high-growth markets see BYOD as way to get ahead in their careers, with 79 per cent believing that constant connectivity to work applications enables them to do their jobs better, compared with 53.5 per cent in mature markets. In all 17 markets, 57.1 per cent of full-time employees said they engage in some form of BYOD. 
 
 
 
Managing mobility 
 
The survey also indicated most BYOD activity is going on unmanaged. This suggests that corporate IT has work to do to improve their monitoring and security capabilities, especially when it comes to mobile management. 
 
Of those respondents who bring their own devices to work, 17.7 per cent claim that their employers' IT departments do not know. A further 28.4 per cent of respondents said their IT departments actively ignore it is happening. There is a better option to the head-in-the-sand approach. The BYOD trend has given rise to a category of software called Mobile Device Management (MDM). 
 
MDM lets companies track, secure, remote wipe, update, and otherwise manage mobile devices, across all operating systems, including Windows, Macs/iOS, Android, and BlackBerry. While most organisations recognise the need for MDM in world where employee owned devices are proliferating, many have not yet deployed it. 
 
This represents a tremendous opportunity for companies that offer MDM software, including Good Technology, SAP/Sybase, IBM, BoxTone, and many others. It also represents an opportunity for software development firms in emerging markets to enter a profitable new global niche. 
 
 
 
Move with the times 
 
Employee owned devices in the workplace are hardly new, but it is the sheer volume of them owned by employees, entering the enterprise that is changing everything. A few years ago, corporate IT managers would have balked at the notion of letting employees bring a variety of devices to work. But IT departments can no longer protect data or networks by owning every device employees use. 
 
Employees will be increasingly working on their own laptops and accessing corporate resources on their own phones and tablets, whether IT likes it or not. In fact, the key to understanding and embracing BYOD is to recognise the value and opportunity it provides to keep employees engaged and connected. Leveraged strategically, BYOD can bring real benefits to employee satisfaction and corporate productivity. 
 
Of course, this can be profitable to both employees and to the business bottom line. 
 
 
 
Bevil Wooding is an Internet strategist with the US-based research firm, Packet Clearing House and the Chief Knowledge Officer at Congress WBN, an international non-profit organisation.