May 24 2012

The BYOD Debate: Where Does Your Business Stand?

The trend toward bringing your device to the workplace is catching on, but it might not be a good fit for all companies.

One of the hottest trends in enterprise computing right now is the “bring your own device” trend. BYOD means that an organization allows its workers to purchase personal computing devices — which include notebooks, smartphones and tablets — and then use them for work.

This shift toward a personal/professional hybrid is a subset of a larger trend: The consumerization of IT. Many pinpoint this switch in corporate mindset to the iPhone, which helped drive smartphone purchase and usage way up. People were so enamored with the sleek device, and many brought it to work and didn’t bother asking for permission to use it. Or in some cases, CEOs demanded that their IT departments support iOS devices in addition to the corporate-selected machines.

Some of the benefits of BYOD include a reduction in hardware expenses, an increase in employee morale and a boost in remote productivity. But what are the challenges of rolling out a BYOD policy?

Mike Rigsby is a network admin for a circuit-board manufacturer in the Portland, Ore., area, and he’s not a fan of the BYOD movement. He made his case in a recent blog post and outlined three areas where he felt BYOD would be a disadvantage:

1. Standardization

Do you really want any number of possible different combinations of smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc., in your enterprise?

Do you really want to become skilled enough to support every possible issue that could arise on dozens of different types of devices? Bugs, hardware failures, patch management, software-installation quirks, compatibility issues — the list is practically endless.

There’s also a certain look of professionalism when all the systems in your company match and look like there was obvious thought put into their implementation.

2. Security

Exactly how far does a company’s authority to enforce activity on an employee’s personal equipment go? Do you really want to deal with the endless different issues that can arise from personally owned equipment being used on your business network? Should IT really be responsible for cleaning up malware infestations on systems that don’t even belong to the company?

Then there’s the angle of intellectual property? So your company deals with some kind of sensitive information, and this user has lots of it on their laptop? Their laptop gets stolen, or that user gets fired or laid off. Now what?

At least if the device is company owned, there is an assumed liability already, and controls to prevent that kind of thing can safely be implemented without the user having any real say over it. If something is owned by the company, decisions that are best for the company can be made much easier concerning the use of said device.

3. Liability

Ok, so your user accidentally drops their laptop down three flights of stairs. Their personal device is now in pieces all over the lobby? Now what?

Does the company now buy this user a brand new replacement device? Refuse, and the user sues over its loss, since they were on company property doing company work on their personally owned device.

Chances are high this new device will be better than the one that was broken, since gadgets update so quickly. So now the business buys a replacement? What happens when the user leaves the employ of this business? The cost of that device is now lost, and this user now has a nice, shiny, new device paid for by the company.

Rigsby’s post raises several important issues that every company should consider before going forward with BYOD. Security, liability and device-replacement insurance should all be addressed in the company’s BYOD policy.

ArenaNet, the developers behind the “Guild Wars” games, dealt with these challenges by limiting the number of devices eligible for BYOD and specified a three-year onsite warranty on the devices. The company shared the specifics of its BYOD plan in a recent BizTech story:

At ArenaNet, employees can purchase personal notebooks from a list of more than a dozen high-end machines. The company pays half the cost, says Peter Petrucci, director of IT and network operations, and it also picks up a three-year onsite warranty as well as an accidental damage policy for the devices.

The damage policy and onsite warranty keep employees productive even when the unexpected happens. Employees pay their portion of the notebook’s cost through payroll deductions over a year, interest-free, and can take advantage of the program every two years. The catch? For that first year, the machine must be used as a primary or secondary work computer.

Some companies are going even further with BYOD than ArenaNet. VMWare recently made the unusual decision to mandate BYOD for its employees, according to a story from the Cult of Mac. The company’s CIO, Mark Egan, even boasted that the company would save seven figures, thanks to the mandatory BYOD initiative.

As IT workers and companies continue to weigh the benefits and challenges of BYOD, it’s important to remember that BYOD is certainly not a one-size-fits-all shoe. What works for one organization might not work for another.