BYOD: A quick guide

An employee checking their smartphone at work, using a personal device for work purposes

Short for Bring Your Own Device, BYOD is the concept of a business allowing its staff to utilise personally-owed devices in the workplace. A relatively fresh concept, the acronym has gained popularity with both IT sellers and buyers alike over the last few years - thanks to the consumerisation of technology such as smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Just a decade ago, enterprise IT knowledge was often a skill set found largely within the confines of the IT department – with staff restricted to using standard tech with precious little freedom of choice. However, the rise of handheld computing began to change attitudes within the industry – starting with Apple’s trailblazing iPhone and continuing with various generations of smartphone and tablet.

The result is a democratised IT landscape, with many now preferring to use their own kit in the workplace given the choice.

Who is it aimed at?

Even if a business restricts its workers to solely using its own technology, often they’ll find ways to work around these rules and utilise their own anyway. This then creates a system and set of relationships that can be far from optimal for the company.

However, BYOD offers a solution for IT managers looking to find an efficient and forward-thinking strategy. Through the mobile management approach, businesses can keep ever-demanding staff content and comfortable with their own tech - whilst also providing a model to help manage this influx of new devices.

This relaxation of device rules can help improve staff happiness, which can ultimately provide a positive knock-on effect in terms of end-results and productivity.

How does it impact the market?

In terms of management, BYOD allows IT executives to take advantage of the demand for consumer technology. Rather than struggling to keep pace with mobile development, CIOs can piggyback on their workers’ eagerness to buy new consumer devices.

A survey by CompuCom has revealed that 28 per cent of companies still haven't bought into BYOD and those that are using it are limiting their employees' use of their own devices in the workplace. 35 per cent of the 418 IT professionals across industries still have a say about what employees can and can't use as their preferred work device, while only 37 per cent allow employees to chosse what they want to use completely.

CompuCom CTO Sam Gross says: “The ‘who decides and who pays’ conundrum with respect to technology enablement is the key tipping point in designing and implementing effective IT support for the business.

“Our experience supports the poll data showing that businesses currently lean more toward specifying technology choices and paying for them, but we also see the beginning of a trend where costs are being transferred to employees, as well as hybrid programs where responsibilities are shared.”

For those workers that do decide to buy and then use their own hardware for work, IT managers can redirect the cash usually spent on mobile devices to other areas. So instead of investing in hardware, IT managers can focus their IT spending on the applications and policies that promote safe and secure access to information.

In theory, BYOD sounds fantastic – workers are kept happy and the business spends less on technology. However, the approach is not necessarily a short cut to cheap mobile management. Analyst Aberdeen Group, for example, says the typical BYOD programme costs 33 percent more than allowing staff to use company-owned devices across a corporate wireless network.

Another challenge networks and partners are experiencing is BYOD in schools. Not only are staff introducing their own devices, but students are also bringing tablets, smartphones and increasingly laptops and other IT equipment into classes.

This is causing distress for resellers when trying to find a one-size-fits-all solution for educational establishments.

Nichole O'Brien, branch manager of information engineering solutions at Dynetics says: "The challenges that we face are often the maturity of the thought process in the school system in that they have to have the right infrastructure in place, and so helping them understand the impact that all of those devices will have on their general network can be a challenge sometimes."

Additionally, supporting a wider range of uncontrolled devices in schools means there are extra bandwidth pressures when it comes to connecting those devices to cloud services, including essentials like Office 365.

That's not to mention extra security in what should be such a closely-guarded environment. Increasingly, resellers are finding themselves becoming educators too, helping steer schools into considering the extra burden allowing students to bring their own devices into the classroom will have on their IT infrastructure.

However, it will also provide an extra opportunity with managed services becoming an essential part of a reseller's toolbox.

Points of interest

There are many reasons why costs can rise. First, BYOD requires investment in security products, such as mobile device management, which provides safe access to corporate information and allows lost devices to be wiped remotely.

Second, the use of many different devices and operating systems can lead to a rise in IT support costs. Finally, companies supporting BYOD will have to find a way to allow workers to expense for their individual data use, which can prove more expensive than bulk buying contracts from a single provider.

Interestingly, those costs – although significant – are not leading to the demise of BYOD programmes. Gartner says 90 percent of organisations will support some aspect of BYOD through 2017. The analyst predicts there will be twice as many employee-owned devices used for work than enterprise-owned devices by 2018.

Many executives who have might have been keen to implement a BYOD approach have started to explore other, closely related strategies. In CYOD, or Choose Your Own Device, users are typically allowed to choose from a small pool of approved company issued devices, usually based on an operating system or two. In a COPE (Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled) strategy, smart devices are owned by the business, which creates ground rules around the access and use of data.

Channel Pro opinion

Businesses have no choice but to find ways to allow people to use smart devices for work. Organisations that fail will find that workers circumnavigate their existing IT policies, and their talented staff will simply leave to work for an employer that is more forward-looking and sympathetic.

Although many mobile security organisations are addressing BYOD security, few are ensuring such high-level security fits into the whole company’s IT infrastructure.

Barracuda and Aerohive Networks have set a precedent though, partnering up to provide a complete visibility when it comes to creating better-defined security policies for wireless access.

The integration includes tying up Aerohive's HiveOS devices, including access points, switches, and routers with Barracuda's Web Security Service, Web Filter, and NG Firewall products to create a BYOD solution with security at it heart.

Barracuda worldwide sales senior vice-president, Michael Hughes says: “The mobile landscape is dramatically evolving, with trends such as BYOD and the "Internet of Things" (IoT) affecting every kind of organisation, often without them even being aware of the infiltration.

"This mobility explosion is also causing organisations to rethink their underpinning infrastructure and security approach. By using Barracuda and Aerohive products together, customers can enable more advanced wireless access and security with greater user visibility in BYOD environments.”

BYOD is not going away, but its form is probably changing. IT executives must create flexible mobile device strategies that keep workers happy, that ensure information security and which boost business productivity. Modern BYOD is, in short, a balancing act.

Mark Samuels
Freelance journalist

Mark Samuels is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. For the past two decades, he has produced extensive work on subjects such as the adoption of technology by C-suite executives.

At ITPro, Mark has provided long-form content on C-suite strategy, particularly relating to chief information officers (CIOs), as well as digital transformation case studies, and explainers on cloud computing architecture.

Mark has written for publications including Computing, The Guardian, ZDNet, TechRepublic, Times Higher Education, and CIONET. 

Before his career in journalism, Mark achieved a BA in geography and MSc in World Space Economy at the University of Birmingham, as well as a PhD in economic geography at the University of Sheffield.