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'Bring your own device' - a threat to, or boon for IT departments?

19 December 2011

Les Hunt
Les Hunt

With Christmas almost upon us, it is likely that thousands of employees will come back to work in the New Year with new gadgets, smartphones, tablets and laptops. This time of the year highlights more than ever the desire among employees to use their personal devices for work, be it with a tablet to write emails, diverting emails to their personal phones or using their laptops for remote working. This raises a number of issues for employers, not least being data security and the device's compatibility with established IT systems.

In addition, it is estimated that roughly 1,000 jobs could be created for every million devices brought into the workplace, either in existing IT departments or in businesses designed to provide the additional support and maintenance that will be required. For this last leader of 2011, I have invited Farhan Mirza of consultants A T Kearney to discuss the impact of personal devices in the workplace - the business issues, the cost to employers and not least the changes that this trend is likely to impose upon the business IT space

With the Facebook generation growing in size within the workplace, employees are quietly bringing their personal devices such as the iPad into the office—and forward-thinking companies are responding with their own initiatives to harness the momentum,
writes Farhan Mirza. Yet, while the greater connectivity and functionality promise increased productivity — and boost IT's image overnight — this workplace revolution is not without its challenges. An integrated 'bring your own device' (BYOD) concept can help maximize the benefits while minimising the risks.

The Facebook generation has been entering the workforce in waves for many years now. Having grown up with the ubiquitous availability of IT, its members accept and expect high levels of automation, 24-7 communication, and seamless connectivity as a way of life. With their more open attitude toward data privacy and a general disdain for controls and standardisation, they come equipped with a 'plug-and-play' mindset, experience in leading-edge IT concepts, and familiarity with devices such as the MacBook, iPhone, and iPad and applications such as Facebook, Skype, and Twitter. For the Facebook generation employee, it is their personal IT experience that defines their baseline expectation of IT tools and services in the corporate environment.

Findings in our recent survey of German companies support this, indicating a clear trend toward the use of personal IT devices in the corporate environment, with almost 40 percent of respondents saying they use at least one personal IT device for business purposes.

Clearly, the computer is no longer perceived as just the electronic means of getting the job done — it has become a design tool that fosters personal expression and creativity, and not just in fields such as advertising and marketing but also in less conventional areas such as distribution. A fault line between IT standardisation and IT personalisation has started to emerge and requires management attention.

So, how does that work?
For companies, it is difficult to reconcile people using their own devices at work against the practices and norms that have traditionally pervaded corporate IT: cost efficiency predicated on standardised hardware and software that is tightly controlled and governed.

A well-designed BYOD strategy and implementation will ensure that personal IT devices boost employee productivity and satisfaction rates without increasing costs.

However, the number of companies whose IT departments are open to this new trend is rising, and they are beginning to accept a variety of IT devices and applications that are also used on a personal basis. BYOD encompasses a broad range of possibilities, from the simple connection of personal IT devices (such as tablets and smartphones) to the corporate network, up to complex funding models in which employees either receive a stipend for buying their own work equipment or contribute to any additional costs of a higher-value IT device in exchange for some personal usage rights. The result? Companies report improved productivity and efficiency and lower costs.

For example, a software firm ran a global pilot in which employees chose their own company computer and the company supported each purchase with a payment of up to $2,000, on condition that an external three-year maintenance contract was part of the deal. From the pilot alone, the company was able to reduce device management costs by 20 percent and cut the budget for maintenance and upgrade tasks by 80 percent.

For those successfully implementing BYOD initiatives, there are numerous benefits. Process times are shorter as employees use their devices outside their regular working hours and are consequently available 'after hours and out of the office' to deal with basic tasks such as responding to emails and attending video meetings.

In addition, employees who have tools tailored to their needs as they perform their duties, rather than tools that meet company-wide standards, have a more positive attitude, and are more motivated and more efficient.

And because companies and employees share the cost of purchasing some IT devices, the burden on the IT budget is lower. Employees also benefit because they do not have to buy a second device for personal use. This assumes that their devices substitute, rather than supplement, the equipment already provided by the company. The advantages of the BYOD concept are not, however, without certain challenges. These include the following:

Protecting data - Less attention is often paid to the security of sensitive corporate data on private systems than on dedicated business IT systems, which exposes the organisation to heightened risk. Furthermore, less standardisation means more potential security vulnerabilities.

Providing IT support - It goes without saying that users expect comprehensive IT support regardless of the heterogeneous system landscape. IT support teams obviously need to widen their skills and re-tool to address a more diverse IT asset base, a greater variety of device configurations, and more software incompatibilities and system conflicts, quickly, competently, and cost effectively.
Purchasing IT - Existing IT supply contracts will have to be recast, as fewer purchases make it difficult to obtain volume discounts on standard equipment and specifications. 
Smart solutions
Given the attractiveness of BYOD on the one hand and the significant challenges on the other, my company has devised an integrated BYOD concept that addresses five core areas to help capitalise on the benefits while minimising the associated risks:

Adapt the procurement concept - Defining a catalogue of standard devices for various usage categories and including a list of high-value devices allows employees to choose their own devices and use them on a personal basis, and pay for any additional associated costs. The ongoing maintenance services for the redefined catalogue is then outsourced to hardware suppliers.

Because a BYOD concept generally means cost savings for both the employee and the company when it comes to replacing workplace computers, the outcome is a classic win-win situation for everyone. Even if you continue to run with a full IT budget based on historic hardware costs, any additional costs for maintenance, for example, are likely to be offset by employees contributing to their share of IT costs.

Improve licence and software management - The company benefits from centralising the packaging, distribution, provision, and management of software licences for all applications.

Define a comprehensive communications campaign - Implementing a communications campaign both within the company - for example, in the form of IT governance guidelines - and outside the company - in the form of marketing measures - can highlight the company's innovative practices. This external marketing of a BYOD initiative serves to increase its appeal to young, qualified potential employees.

Expand the IT help desk - Expanding the capacity of the IT help desk will be necessary to cope with the heterogeneous IT landscape and anticipated rise in user queries following the introduction of the BYOD concept. This usually means revised training, new support portals, wikis for self-help, and redefined service levels.

Alter the architecture (introduce virtualised work environments) - The savings can only take effect at the workplace level when there is sufficient investment in a secure and capable IT architecture. Such investments should be seen in the context of the benefits already discussed (increased productivity and efficiency) and in the positive impact on the company's image.

Making core applications such as Microsoft Office available to employees via the corporate intranet, either as a browser solution or a virtual application, has enormous advantages in that the company's actual application landscape is detached from the hardware-specific requirements of heterogeneous IT devices. These are equipped with an appropriate framework to ensure the secure access and use of enterprise applications. As the main applications and key data are provided over the Internet, IT security requirements and user-specific access and identity-management protocols are put in place.

It is not simply a matter of providing access to data but also of safe-guarding the use of corporate applications via the Internet.

Getting personal pays off
Relaxing standardisation with a successful BYOD concept begins with an analysis of the corporate culture to determine costs, benefits, potential users, and future IT requirements. Next, we make sure all statutory requirements regarding IT security, compliance and tax legislation are addressed. Performing a pilot with select users is a good way to test the concept before going live. A well-designed strategy and implementation will ensure that personal IT devices boost employee productivity and satisfaction rates without increasing costs, leading to a lasting advantage for companies and their employees.

Farhan Mirza is a principal at A T Kearney, a global management consulting firm, founded in 1926 in Chicago by Andrew Thomas Kearney.

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