Vendors plaster it all over their websites, touting how they solve the BYOD problem better than the next vendor. If you put BYOD in the title of your webcast, show session, white paper, or anything else, you are sure to get lots of interest and more hits than one without the BYOD distinction. But what is it about user-owned devices that is causing such angst that it gets this much attention and so much discussion?
Do companies need to have a BYOD program, or just a mobile program? Does BYOD make management and security much more difficult, or is it the devices themselves and how they are used that makes these tasks challenging. All of this talk of BYOD makes it sound like users purchasing their own devices and bringing them into work is a completely different challenge from corporate provided devices. IT’S NOT!
I will concede that there are some important legal and potentially financial considerations around who owns the device that is used for business, especially in regulated industries. But the vast majority of BYOD conversations are about management of the device, security of the data, and most importantly the user experience. And there, it makes no difference. It makes no difference because we no longer have business mobile devices and consumer mobile devices – they are all consumer devices now.
Blackberry once introduced legitimate business devices that were designed to specifically serve the needs of businesses and NOT the needs of consumers. A consumer-purchased Blackberry, once connected to a corporate BES server, was not a new and baffling challenge to IT. It wasn’t until users started bringing iOS and Android devices into the work environment that the BYOD horrors began. But BYOD is a distinction of who purchased the device, as if it really matters who the owner is. That is not where the problem exists. Any company that provides iOS and Android devices has exactly the same challenges, even though they made the purchase. So let’s get over BYOD and just solve the MOBILE challenges.
It is the impact on user experience that has caused companies such a hard time with the so-called BYOD problem. In a sincere attempt to protect mobile data, IT applies policies, and those policies have a negative impact on the user experience. Different technologies and approaches have different levels of impact and should be considered carefully before implementation. But, so far there is not a zero impact way to protect mobile data. We’re still waiting for the killer technology that completely negates the need to care what devices and apps are used, and only controls the data that needs protecting, with a transparent user identity check.
What about all of the personal stuff on BYOD devices? Some claim that the BYOD challenge is largely about all of the personal stuff on the device that the company doesn’t want to touch, doesn’t want on their networks, and doesn’t want liability for. Guess what. Company provided devices often wind up with just as much personal stuff as their personally owned counterparts. The user’s expectations of privacy and retention of their personal mobile assets may certainly be higher on their own devices than those corporate devices where personal use is a luxury and convenience. But, again, the issues are the same for corporate IT, as many recent lawsuits over lost personal pictures and private data will attest.
The problem commonly referred to as BYOD, is really a problem of user expectations and consumer-type devices (and consumer apps) being used in a business setting. That is the challenge before us. There are some valiant efforts by all of the vendors moving us closer to solving these issues in better ways. But let’s not kid ourselves about what the real problem is. Either buy devices for your users, or let them buy the devices themselves, according to the regulatory, legal or financial requirements of your business. Then forget who owns them as you go about solving the real problems of mobile productivity.
Just don’t be distracted by who owns the device.