IT consumerization mythbusters: The BYOD policy edition

IT consumerization carries with it ample myths and logical fallacies. Scott Lowe busts bring-your-own-device myths in this expert tip.

Scott LoweScott Lowe

The IT consumerization revolution is upon us. It takes many forms, from users wanting to use their own laptops

and tablet devices to employees getting tired of carrying two smartphones -- one for work and one for personal use. Each smartphone has its loyal followers, and chances are your employees have already picked their favorites. But the promise of bring your own device is easier said than done.

I'm seeing a lot of CIOs struggle with their BYOD policies. Perhaps promises were made to "bring your own device" (BYOD) without CIOs realizing the repercussions of IT consumerization.  Maybe employees' hopes are too high. These companies are victims of prevailing bring-your-own-device myths. Make sure you understand all these smartphone myths before taking the plunge.

BYOD myth No. 1: Companies automatically save money with BYOD

For some, the compelling driver behind a BYOD policy is the hope of reducing corporate costs. As users eschew devices provided by the company, bring their own device to the office, and use it for work purposes, companies might be starting to buy into the myth that they save costs associated with all smartphone users. After all, once the users own the devices and the associated business apps, the corporation simply washes its hands of the costs and goes on its way, right? But rarely is reality quite that simple.

Although the company may see a reduction in their direct costs related to all smartphone cellular providers, CIOs will start accumulating new expenses.  CIOs will need to fund corporate stipends to employees for the personal use of cellular devices. Companies will also require mobile management software tools to cope with "hostile" devices -- smartphones that are not owned or controlled by the organization and pose a potential security threat. On the cost front, employees won't enjoy the economies of scale formerly appreciated by the larger organization.  While the company may have purchased thousands of devices and carried bulk plans, individuals don't generally have the same opportunities. Companies will need to spend dollars accommodating the new challenges that come with bring-your-own-device initiatives

Myth busted: At best, BYOD is a break-even proposition.

BYOD myth No. 2: BYOD improves a company's overall security posture

Think that BYOD can improve a company's security posture since there won't be as many mobile devices running around the office? Think again. In reality, you will probably see more mobile devices hitting the network, and as a result, you now have a number of new security issues with which to contend, including:

  • Ensuring that corporate data remain safe on all smartphones.  This includes corporate email, which is often forgotten.
  • Making sure that the devices, each with its own connection to the Internet, are not used to steal corporate data.
  • Taking steps to prevent virus outbreaks that could originate on mobile devices.
  • Making sure that users are following corporate BYOD policy regarding the security of devices that access corporate information.

Myth busted: Allowing employees to bring their own devices will add major security challenges that CIOs must overcome.

Bring your own device and IT consumerization are happening with or without you. It's always better to be on the right side of these kinds of efforts.

BYOD myth No. 3: With BYOD, IT is freed up to perform other tasks

Do you think that by jettisoning dozens, hundreds or even thousands of corporate-owned mobile devices and their associated services -- such as BlackBerry servers -- your IT staff will be freed up to work on a multitude of other business facing initiatives? Not so fast.

Although your IT staff may no longer have to worry about provisioning individual devices for users, handling support calls for corporate-owned devices, and dealing with monthly billing from cellular providers, they'll now be helping users provision their personal devices for use in the corporate landscape. They'll be handling support calls for personally-owned devices and be dealing with stipends and other compensation issues. That BlackBerry server may well go away, but it would probably be replaced with a mobile device management solution that supports the BYOD program.

Myth busted: IT time spent on supporting mobile devices may slightly shift in focus, but there will be no time savings with the introduction of a BYOD policy.

BYOD myth No. 4: BYOD is all about productivity

When attempting to sell a BYOD policy, folks claim that they can improve user productivity by allowing users to choose devices with which they have a high degree of comfort.  While increased productivity may be an actual outcome in some programs, in most cases productivity will stay exactly where it is today.

More vital information on IT consumerization

CIO uses mobile business solutions to free execs from their desktops

The point of bring your own device is freedom for the user

Is it the right time for IT consumerization?

Sample mobile security policy templates

Why would companies take on BYOD when it has no clear benefit for the organization? Simply put, many people identify with their devices, which have become an extension of themselves.  Whether this is a good thing or bad thing is irrelevant; it's simply reality (and something with which I personally identify).  Some companies have instituted BYOD program as an option for employees -- and the program is more about employee comfort and happiness than it is about productivity.  That said, if productivity plummets as a result of BYOD, I'm certain that it would be rolled back.

Myth busted: While productivity gains may be a hope, they shouldn't be counted on as a guaranteed outcome.

BYOD myth No. 5: CIOs can safely ignore BYOD

A BYOD policy isn't necessarily easy to implement and support.  As a CIO, you may take the mindset that you will simply wait for the BYOD fad to pass and that all smartphones will go away, and then continue business as usual.  There's only one problem: Bring your own device and IT consumerization are happening with or without you. It's likely better to be on the right side of this effort.

In some businesses IT consumerization may never happen (i.e. super-secure organizations that are known by three-letter acronyms). However, CIOs in most organizations should begin to prepare their staffs for the BYOD wave before it hits -- and it will hit. Failure to plan for IT consumerization has exactly one result -- chaos. You'll doom your IT staff to saying "No" to users, while those same users complain that they can't get their work done because of a draconian BYOD policy.

Myth busted: For many, IT consumerization is going to happen; it's just a matter of when.

Scott Lowe is CIO of Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. Write to him at editor@searchcio-midmarket.com or tt@slowe.com.

This was first published in August 2012

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