Bring Your Own Device—Are We There Yet?

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Imagine a world where everyone is expected to provide his own computer, mobile device, software, or whatever he needs wherever he works.

It might sound crazy, but there are precedents in the construction industry. Most construction workers are expected to bring their own tools. It makes perfect sense when working with dangerous equipment. This even extends into the engineering and architectural professions. I have a complete set of drafting tools from my years as a Registered Architect.

Outside of niche industries, no one has questioned having a company purchase and control the hardware and software that employees use to do their jobs. Until recently, it was expensive, and few people had computers outside of the work environment, so it was a moot point. Now with the widespread use of mobile devices, it is time to revisit that notion. 

The reality is that no matter how tightly policies are managed to limit access to company-owned devices, employees are bringing their personal devices to work and using them for company business. The pressure to support bring your own device (BYOD) and provide a more flexible mobility solution is quickly mounting as more people switch to using mobile with computing and data features as their home communications device of choice.

At the end of 2011, 16 percent of all US consumer mobile communications subscriptions were smartphones of some type (generally either iPhone or Android). In China, that figure jumps to 22 percent. Projecting future trends indicate that it is just a matter of time before smart devices represent the majority of mobile subscriptions. As the number of people who own these devices for their home use increases, more of them will balk at the prospect of carrying two devices—one for home and one for office use. 

While close to 100 percent of all enterprises have some employee-owned devices on their networks, officially sanctioned or not, very few companies are creating the holistic enterprise mobility strategy that is needed to drive real business advantage. Implementing a BYOD policy and using the supporting infrastructure to enforce it will limit the company’s liability and create more productive employees. Some policies and software that need to be implemented for a BYOD approach to be successful include:

  • Create a strong BYOD policy that limits company liability.
  • Purchase and implement corporate-wide mobile device management software that has at least the following minimum features to: 
    • secure the devices when they are attached to the corporate network
    • create role-based access policies to company applications on the devices
    • automatically wipe corporate applications from devices as part of an employee termination process
    • support the platforms indicated in the corporate policy
    • add devices as new ones come on the market, and
    • allow the development of custom corporate apps for more advanced features
  • Limit the number of supported devices to the most popular ones to reduce IT administration overhead and costs. Apple’s IOS devices iPhone and iPad represent 65 percent of the market; Android-based devices are another 20 percent (and growing). Between them they have an 85 percent market share, which should more than satisfy the user community. Note that Blackberry is currently under 2 percent and falling rapidly.

Be aware that the policies need to be written so that they provide appropriate technology guidelines rather than a specific list of supported devices. New models and features are coming every six months or less. With the current rate of change it would be impossible to maintain control any other way.

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Beth Cohen

Beth Cohen is a senior cloud architect for Cloud Technology Partners, delivering solutions to help enterprises leverage the efficiencies of cloud architectures and technologies. Beth was director of engineering IT for BBN Corporation, was involved with the initial development of the Internet, and worked on some of the hottest networking and web technology protocols in their infancy.