One of the current buzzwords in business computing is BYOD – Bring Your Own Device. With the increase in flexible and mobile working, employees can’t always do everything off a fixed desktop computer. They want – and need – to be able to work from home, from a client’s office, perhaps even from a car or a coffee shop. They’re using laptops, tablets, and smartphones – anything that can run a few apps and access the Net can be sufficient. And since everyone has their own preferences, why not let them use whatever they’re most comfortable with and bring their own devices?
BYOD is easier for the employee
In general, employees love BYOD for three reasons. First, they can use the equipment they like to use. One person may love their iPad, while another prefers her Galaxy Note, and a third likes the big screen and keyboard on their MacBook Pro. If it doesn’t impact their ability to work, then it makes sense to let employees choose their own tools.
Secondly, they don’t have to carry extra devices when they’re traveling for both personal and business use. Often a single smartphone will be all they need. They don’t have to load up with one laptop for making their business presentation, and another for watching YouTube or doing personal emails in the hotel after a meeting.
And third it gives them flexibility – they have all they need, all the time, and can work anywhere they happen to be. There’s no problem with accidentally leaving a vital file on a computer at home or at work – it’s all on the one device.
Save money on equipment
From the corporate point of view, it’s a huge cost-saver if employees are providing their own computers. Often, they’ll choose to have far more expensive devices than you wanted to pay for. If all you need them to do is a bit of emailing and document creation, a fairly modest computer will suffice. Some employees will find that frustrating if they’re used to a PC that will handle Sniper Elite 2 with all the graphics options turned to maximum – how often have you heard them grumble, “I’ve got a better PC at home!” So let them use their own kit, and everybody wins.
The chances are, they’ll have a smartphone and either a tablet or a laptop, and that’s probably all they’ll need. So make use of that.
BYOD can create support problems
One of your biggest worries will be that you’ll end up with your staff using a huge range of different hardware platforms and apps. One person will be writing their documents using Kingsoft Office on their Android tablet, and them someone using a different Office app on their iPhone won’t be able to read it. You’ll recommend a great app for sharing sales data, and then find that the one guy with the Windows phone can’t use it. You’ll come across a weird bug that only affects Mountain Lion on the MacBook, and your poor IT guy won’t be able to figure out why.
If you go down the BYOD route, you sacrifice conformity and consistency. Most of the time, that shouldn’t be a problem, especially if you’re using browser-based tools, but if you’re supporting software or apps across different platforms, that can have unexpected pitfalls.
What about security problems?
We’ve all read the stories about people who left a laptop on a train or in a cafe and lost valuable corporate information. Most people are savvy enough to protect our laptops with passwords, but that’s much less common when it comes to phones or tablets. Many people want the convenience of “instant on”. That means that if the device goes missing, it’s trivial to break into it. If the passwords are stored on the device, then it will take no time at all to hack into corporate email, social media accounts, or servers. Apps like Dropbox or Google Drive are instantly exposed, as are client contacts, shared calendars, and task lists. In the worst case, confidential customer data or company finances could be at risk.
And then there are the more delicate personal issues. A member of your staff is giving a demo to a client and finding something on a Web site, and something, shall we say, less than professional turns up in their browser history. It happens, and it’s embarrassing for all concerned. It’s none of your concern what they get up to on their own time using their own computers, but it is a problem if that affects your company and your relationship with your clients.
Lastly, there’s the problem of what happens when an employee leaves, especially if it’s under acrimonious circumstances. They may have software you’ve paid for installed on your machine, as well as access to a lot of sensitive data. They may have complete copies of correspondence or other confidential material on their machine, and that’s out of your control.
Write a BYOD policy
If you decide to allow your staff to use their own equipment, you should have a policy that sets out what you will allow them to do and any requirements you want to place on their usage. This could include security issues, and may also include stipulations on who is responsible for purchase of software and who owns the software on their device.
BYOD can work well, provided you think it through and manage it well. There are risks, but the benefits usually outweigh them.