The rise of bring your own device (BYOD) programs is the single most radical shift in the economics of client computing for business since PCs invaded the workplace, according to Gartner, Inc.
Every business needs a clearly articulated position on BYOD, even if it chooses not to allow for it.
BYOD is an alternative strategy that allows employees, business partners and other users to use personally selected and purchased client devices to execute enterprise applications and access data. For most organizations, the program is currently limited to smartphones and tablets, but the strategy may also be used for PCs and may include subsidies for equipment or service fees.
"With the wide range of capabilities brought by mobile devices, and the myriad ways in which business processes are being reinvented as a result, we are entering a time of tremendous change," said David Willis, VP and Distinguished Analyst at Gartner. "The market for mobile devices is booming and the basic device used in business compared to those used by consumers is converging. Simultaneously, advances in network performance allow the personal device to be married to powerful software that resides in the cloud."
Mobile innovation is now driven more by consumer markets than business markets. Affordability is not only putting very powerful technology in the hands of consumers, but those consumers are also upgrading at a much faster rate. An organization may better keep up with mobile technology advancements by aligning to the consumer, rather than the much slower pace of business technology adoption, with its long cycle of detailed requirements analysis, established refresh rates, and centralized procurement heritage. Consumers also enjoy equipment and domestic service pricing that often matches the best deals that an enterprise can get on behalf of its users.
In a BYOD approach, users are permitted certain access rights to enterprise applications and information on personally owned devices, subject to user acceptance of enterprise security and management policies. The device is selected and purchased by the user, although IT may provide a list of acceptable devices for the user to purchase. In turn, IT provides partial or full support for device access, applications and data. The organization may provide full, partial or no reimbursement for the device or service plan.
"Just as we saw with home broadband in the past decade, the expectation that the company will supply full reimbursement for equipment and services will decline over time, and we will see the typical employer favor reimbursing only a portion of the monthly bill," said Willis. "We also expect that as adoption grows and prices decline employers will reduce the amount they reimburse."
While BYOD programs can reduce costs, they typically do not. As businesses look to drive ever more capability to the mobile device, the costs of software, infrastructure, personnel support and related services will increase over time. Once companies start including file sharing, business applications and collaboration tools, the costs to provide mobile services go up dramatically.
Gartner believes that IT's best strategy to deal with the rise of BYOD is to address it with a combination of policy, software, infrastructure controls and education in the near term; and with application management and appropriate cloud services in the longer term. Policies must be built in conjunction with legal and HR departments for the tax, labor, corporate liability and employee privacy implications. Gartner recommends that companies start with a standard policy that would apply anywhere, and create customized versions by country if necessary.
"BYOD is not for every company, or every employee. There will be wide variances in BYOD adoption across the world — by geography, industry and corporate culture," said Willis. "Most programs are at the employee's discretion — they decide if they want to opt in. For the vast majority of companies it is not possible to force all users into a bring your own (BYO) program without substantial financial investments — and considerable support from senior management."
Despite the inherent challenges, Gartner believes that we are likely to see highly successful BYOD programs in the coming years. Many businesses will expand beyond smartphones and tablets and embrace BYO for personal computers. Beyond PCs, it is likely that users will discover new uses for emerging devices not initially understood by IT planners, much like we saw with the iPad.
"It won't stop with bring your own PC," said Mr. Willis. "Bring your own IT is on the horizon. Once these new devices are in the mix, employees will be bringing their own applications, collaboration systems, and even social networks into businesses."