As the computers in our pockets known as smartphones have grown in both power and accessibility, they have naturally made their way into the workplace. Bring your own device (BYOD) is a trend that has exploded in popularity over the last year and it doesn't show signs of slowing down.
BYOD has its pros and cons, but allowing users to work on the devices they are comfortable with can go a long way for productivity. Another related trend that is likely to continue its momentum in 2015 is bring your own application (BYOA).
Driven by the app economy and the cloud, BYOA brings similar opportunities to the enterprise, but it also comes with some of the same threats. BYOA has been around for a while, but it's beginning to really hit its stride in business IT.
Here's what you need to know about BYOA.
1. Examine your IT infrastructure
With the growing popularity of BYOA, IT managers have a new opportunity to take a good, long look at their existing IT infrastructure. Depending on the type of application being brought in, it could mean that you are lacking a key, supporting piece in your network. Pay special mind to the network utilization and bandwidth consumption of apps that are brought in. You may need to add more capacity to your network or address users and apps that are consuming more than their fair share of resources.
2. Vet the security
Perhaps the single most important step in embracing either BYOD or BYOA is making sure you have the necessary security in place to handle the number of third party tools that will be invading your workplace. You should also check the security issues of the apps themselves.
As part of your BYOA policy, you should choose which vendors or what types of applications can be used. With any BYOA tool, you should vet the application to determine if it stores data, whether it encrypts that data, and where it stores it. If the application needs to send data, make sure it is within your company's policy geographically. Additionally, you should examine applications for potential complications due to remote access capabilities. And of course, be wary about potential compliance issues, and make users aware of the risks of storing company and customer data on external systems.
3. Determine company involvement
As you see BYOA growing within your organization, it's important to determine just how involved your company will be at the onset. This will look decidedly different depending on your company size — obviously an SMB will have different level of involvement than a Fortune 500 company.
Regardless, it is pivotal that you connect with your managers and employees to set clear guidelines for what responsibility you can handle. BYOA affects training practices, so you need to know what apps you will eventually support and train for and what which ones you won't. This will also affect your budget, so it is important to figure out how much money, if any, you will provision for department BYOA expenditures.
4. Manage expectations
BYOD and BYOA are both part of the greater movement of the consumerization of IT. People are used to consumer tools "just working," and that is part of the appeal of the BYOA movement. Many of the apps people bring into the workplace are designed to operate simply, much like their consumer counterparts.
This can create problems for IT leaders, especially, as it changes expectations for other corporate software as well. You can manage the expectations by engaging employees and helping them understand the differences in the applications they are bringing in and the software your company relies on to run its core business processes.
Set up an employee portal and use presentations, seminars, and training to ease the learning curve and explain why the software still needs to be more complex at times because it's managing such complicated processes. But, also take a cue from BYOA and work to make your business software more self-evident and user friendly.
5. Craft a policy
What could be seen as a second step of company involvement is crafting a policy. Reading the word "policy" could likely have just made your eyes roll back in your head, but it is an important step in the process and it gives you a reference point for all future BYOA inquiries. There aren't many BYOA policy templates, but take a look at some BYOD templates, like this one from Tech Pro Research, and see if there are some points you can pull.
6. Focus on the data, not the application
Considering BYOA, it's good to remember that what really matters is the data itself, not the application that is processing or manipulating it. As the new applications make their way into your workplace, make your primary focus on the data involved with the applications, because that is the value of your organization. After vetting for security, seek to understand how this app interacts with employee data and company data, and what picture it gives to the person using it.
This could raise compliance red flags, but it could also help you improve your existing apps or officially adopt and support BYOA apps that can then be brought up to par on corporate security policies. This is the way that apps like Dropbox, Box, and Evernote have made an entrance into the enterprise in recent years.
7. Encourage collaboration
Encourage your employees to own the BYOA process. Keep an open mind and make your leaders available to hear the thoughts and concerns of your workforce. If employees have more invested in how they get work done, they will better engage their own productivity.
Also, encourage employees to navigate the process together. If someone in finance has a new tool they are raving about, let them bring it up at the next meeting. By keeping lines of communication open, and encouraging employees to work through the process together, you'll likely see more collaboration within the applications that were brought in.
8. Don't ignore consumer apps
Often, when considering consumerization, we look for enterprise apps that merely function like consumer apps. There's nothing inherently wrong with seeking out tools that were built specifically for the enterprise, but it is important to not write off consumer apps as well. Consider what "consumer" social media apps did for marketing and advertising. There might be another consumer solution out there that could help your business get faster, better, or smarter.
9. Understand the impact
BYOA has many potential implications for your company, with some more apparent than others. Pay attention to how it is perceived by the different divisions within your company and do your best to make sure employees are educated. Bear in mind that your employees probably run the gamut of adoption and BYOA might stress some of your late adopters. Keep people informed and make sure they know that they can participate at whatever level is comfortable for them. Also, keep an eye on unintended consequences.
10. BYOA by company
As you move towards BYOA, keep in mind that it will look different for companies of varying sizes and in different industries. Smaller companies might not have the resources to manage security requirements of BYOA. On the other hand, it might give them a unique way to approach work with fewer infrastructure pieces to manage.
Think about how BYOA can align with your company culture and the compliance needs of your industry. Tools are meant to help us get work done, so apps should be catalysts for your company's goals and drive the work needed to reach those goals.
- BYOD: What's really happening behind the hype? (TechRepublic)
- 10 steps for a successful BYOD adoption (TechRepublic)
- BYOA influence underscores need to redefine SMB application management
- BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Policy (Tech Pro Research)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is Enterprise Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.