Bring Your Own Device Part 1: What is BYOD?

by Koosha Araghi on August 16, 2013

I check my work email on a mobile device (iPhone or Macbook Pro) in and out of the office, and I bet you do too. This is nothing new in the business world---we’ve been mobile in this way since the early days of Blackberry and Palm. What is a newer trend is that the mobile devices are MINE and they offer powerful business apps that give me deep access to my company's data. This phenomenon is referred to as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

There are many big benefits in employees providing their own hardware, but it can certainly complicate things as well. Technology is a double-edged sword, it really depends on how you use it---fire can keep you warm, but it can also burn down your village. This is an important trend and as such, we’ve decided to do a two part series discussing the subject. In this post, we’ll break down what BYOD is, highlight important areas to consider when devising a policy, and then we’ll explore what Google Apps offers in terms of mobile device management.

Background on BYOD

Even though Blackberry and Palm users have been pounding out work emails since the late ‘90s, these were largely owned and provided by employers. BYOD really gained steam with the release of the iPhone in 2007. The sales numbers were staggering and soon almost everyone had one. The popularity and ease of development on their platform led to an explosion of amazingly powerful mobile apps.

BYOD is part of a larger trend called the “consumerization of IT,” where innovation was largely taking place in consumer technology products and subsequently trickled down to business tech. Think of Twitter as an example. This product was built for play and later became used for work. This is the reverse of typical technological progress. Computers, for instance, began as building-sized machines, available only to big institutions that could afford the steep price and later became available to individuals.

Mobile hardware and software are only two legs of the table though. The other two primary factors are powerful wireless Internet and cloud software. According to the Cisco-Cloud Index, cloud solutions will account for nearly two thirds of global internet traffic by 2016. The cloud space is growing rapidly as more organizations are choosing to ditch servers and IT headaches in exchange for fully hosted solutions.

So this all led to many consumers using their personal devices for getting their work done. It also enabled work to more easily come home and blur the line between office-life and home-life. The growing divide between consumer tech and business tech showed a stark contrast for users, creating innovation pressure as we started wondering why our companies were in the dark ages of usability and connectedness.

Benefits & Challenges

Yes, this is mostly good news. But as I’m sure you would imagine, this new arrangement also comes with its share of challenges for businesses.

Benefits of BYOD

  • Can Reduce Your Costs. Supplying devices and connectivity for working at home or while traveling can be expensive. Data services in particular have surged in recent years. With employees funding their own devices, the cost of upgrading and maintaining hardware no longer resides within the company. Another key aspect of this is that users tend to upgrade their devices roughly every 18 months which relieves the cost and headaches of regularly upgrading to the latest tech for organizations.
  • Increased Employee Output. All of us have our personal devices active and handy, whereas if the device was purely for work, we are more apt to shut it off outside the office or after hours. According to a survey by enterprise mobility vendor, iPass, employees who use their personal devices for work put in an additional 240 hours of work per year on average.
  • Increased Employee Satisfaction And Retention. A recent study by a global recruitment agency, Ambition, showed that employees prefer flexible working conditions (including BYOD) over promotions. Additionally, some studies have indicated that embracing BYOD helps attract talent by appearing forward-thinking.
  • Decreased Training & Ramp-up Time. Employees already know how to use their devices and operating systems, reducing the need for training. Certain workflows are already established and this can really improve productivity as well.

Challenges of BYOD

  • Network Security. Allowing end users to connect to your private networks with any device can increase your exposure to malware and unauthorized access. For organizations that abide by strict compliance guidelines, this can also open the door to legal risks.
  • Data Loss. If an employee’s device is stolen, lost, or infected with a software virus, there may be a risk of losing any work that had not been backed up yet.
  • IT Complexity. With multiple platforms and devices at play, it can be difficult to maintain consistency in what types of applications are used and how to deal with different versions of software. This can also become a burden for your IT people who will have to manage and troubleshoot in many different environments.
  • Privacy. In the good ol’ days, it was much easier to control access. Often if you weren’t in the building, you didn’t have access. Now company documents and emails can easily be stored on personal notebooks, tablets, and smartphones. This may be “company owned” data, but if you don’t have proper software, it will be hard to keep this data under your corporate umbrella.
  • Potential Cost Increase. Even though cost savings is possible, if you have to setup dual networks and implement various new policies and software to mitigate the above risks, you can potentially nullify any savings and even increase costs. This risk is more likely with larger organizations and certain business processes.

There’s no clear sight of the BYOD trend reversing, so organizations, especially those with strict compliance standards, should take a proactive stance and tackle the challenges with tools, policies, and education.

A new breed of software, called Mobile Device Management (or MDM for short), is emerging to help manage these challenges. Stay tuned for the 2nd half of our BYOD series, where we discuss some things to consider when choosing a MDM solution and specifically explore what Google Apps offers in this area.

This is part 1 of 2 of our series on BYOD. You can access Part 2 here.

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Koosha Araghi
Director of Marketing at UpCurve Cloud
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