A recent Tech Pro Research report on the topic of the Internet of Things, wearables, and the BYOD movement found that 72% of organizations polled were permitting BYOD or planning to do so. IT shops have had some turbulence over the years, supporting a new array of personally owned devices, but this is starting to thin out. As a system administrator I can say that people are much more cautious about letting you administer something containing pictures of their kids than they are about company-owned equipment—but on the flip side I've seen fewer phones left in taxi cabs or dropped in toilets since BYOD arrived.
Nothing stands still in the technology realm, not even tried-and-true workhorses like Microsoft Word and Mozilla Firefox. And so BYOD will continue to shift in 2016, going down new and interesting avenues. Which avenues will those be? Here are 10 possibilities, which you'd do well to examine if your company uses BYOD (or you happen to support it).
1: BYOD will become more of a requirement than a privilege
The days of employees bringing their iPhones and iPads into the office begging for them to be hooked up are over. In fact, if anything workers will start seeing companies requesting or even mandating that they use their own devices for company work. Gartner predicts half of employers around the world will require BYOD by the end of 2016.
As we become more and more enmeshed in our far-flung and global economies, the traditional brick-and-mortar organization continues to fade in prominence. Many companies are now made up of people who meet rarely or never. (I myself have not had the pleasure of meeting my TechRepublic editors in person, as I am a remote contractor located in Massachusetts.) In addition, smaller companies just starting out can see real gains from BYOD. Expect usage figures to grow, at least where feasible. (More on that a bit later.)
2: Full reimbursement for all costs will decrease
Sad to say, the era of companies fully reimbursing employees for using their personal devices to conduct business operations will decrease. As point #1 states, mandatory BYOD is going to become more widespread, meaning it will be a part of staff requirements.
In the previously cited research report, more than half of all survey respondents said employees are solely responsible for their devices and service plans. Only 7% said their employers were footing the entire bill for both, with 18% of workers receiving a monthly stipend for using their gadgets to conduct business. While this latter percentage seems the fairest option for both parties, even that isn't guaranteed to remain static. Mobile devices are here to stay, and employers know that.
3: More apps/cloud resources are coming
BYOD is not just about corporate email and maybe a VPN client to connect you to HQ. A plethora of apps and cloud resources are already available to connect people via devices for business purposes, and more are coming. For instance, we use Trello at my company—a cool card-based task management system for assigning responsibilities—and of course it's also a mobile app. Trello is just one example of external sites playing a role in BYOD for internal users to get stuff done. The advantages here are collaboration, shared tasks, information repositories, and better communication, trends that will only grow in 2016. IT departments will do well to keep up on what their users need and make recommendations they can support.
4: The Internet of Things will proliferate
BYOD is no longer just about smart phones and tablets, either. The Internet of Things (IOT) will continue to make inroads into the BYOD realm, thanks to wearables, sensors, environmental monitors and other elements playing a role. Smart policymakers will figure out how these can factor into company strategy.
5: A unified strategy will be needed
As complexity grows, the discipline and strategy needed to manage BYOD will grow in accordance. IT departments will need to plan and map out how they can handle these changes in BYOD, define guidelines and requirements for use, and ensure that the appropriate administration, monitoring, and support controls are in place to rise to the new challenges and ensure that they bring the greatest possible benefits to the business.
6: Storage may be an issue
I'm not talking about storage costs or limitations per se, but the issue of where company files wind up, thanks to local and cloud storage options on devices. It's inevitable: Users will save a document locally and then be unable to find it later on their desktop if they deleted the message—so they must then scramble to find where they put it.
This can be alleviated by using centralized cloud storage that synchronizes documents across various devices, both personal and company-owned. But it requires forethought and planning by users and IT departments. More devices means more locations and more opportunity for chaos. Tame the chaos through predictable controls and settings.
7: Security will be harder
Remember how I said BYOD usage figures would grow where feasible? Well, companies not using BYOD in our recent study cited security concerns as the greatest reason not to do so. The concern will remain valid, and IT departments that permit BYOD—or that would benefit from it if it were allowed—will have to work harder than ever to contain and regulate it.
Simply put, there are many devices out there storing or accessing corporate data, which are winding up in more hands than ever (even if it's an eight-year-old child who installs a potentially insecure app on his mother's iPad, which she uses to conduct company business).
The convenience and cost savings of BYOD have always resulted in a security tradeoff, much like a seesaw that can end up spilling one or the other party onto the ground if the balance isn't carefully maintained. This is only going to become more prominent in 2016.
8: It will become more difficult to separate employees from the business
Terminations are a way of life. As an IT guy, I've conducted the disconnection process of separating employees from the company, and I've even had to give a thumbs up or thumbs down as to whether to keep a certain staffer. It's not pretty, but it happens.
BYOD makes it all that much harder to ensure company data remains in the appropriate hands, an issue that will keep growing thanks to the sheer number of items that access it and places where it is kept.
How can you ensure that someone's Dropbox account didn't synchronize company data to their home PC before they were terminated? If the access was in place beforehand, you can't ensure that. I can tell you as a technologist that I can't guarantee someone hasn't taken confidential data out of the organization at any given time. They might very well have used their smartphone to take a picture of private information displayed on their monitor. Once you realize that, you will understand the necessity of embracing alternate options where possible, alongside the technological controls that can make a difference.
This is a situation where corporate policies and legal controls must take precedence over any technological measures you can implement. If an employee's final paycheck is dependent upon their signing an agreement stating they have removed all company data from any personally owned devices (check your HR department first) upon termination, that's a step in the right direction. And, of course, hiring individuals based on integrity has been and will always remain a key factor.
9: Employees will need to embrace the previous two concepts
As the saying goes, "if you want to play, you've got to pay." The last two items pertain to proper security controls. Employees who want the convenience of BYOD have to play by the rules and accept these controls.
Years ago, my company instituted a clear BYOD policy stating that if employees were terminated for cause, we reserved the right to remotely wipe any BYOD-connected devices they hooked up under our umbrella. If they wanted to use these devices to conduct company business, that was a condition.
Of course, having former employees bring their devices to us so we could visually inspect that they'd removed all accounts and data was a perfectly acceptable alternative to just deleting everything—a measure that was to be conducted only in an extreme situation (such as a disgruntled ex-staffer who cut off all ties to the organization).
I mentioned previously how sensitive people could be regarding devices containing pictures of their kids. One user absolutely balked at our "wipe it if all else fails" policy, saying he would not give permission for us to delete his pictures—as if that was our sole intention. He didn't want to pay, so he didn't play. (He did come around later, once he got the concept.) However, the situation illustrates the two-way street between workers and IT staff, which will need to be carefully maintained and respected as 2016 unfolds.
10: Passwords will fall by the wayside
This is simple and straightforward. Passwords are a thing of the past. They're a security risk, people loathe creating them and despise changing them even more, and they're strictly a Mickey Mouse kind of lock that a bobby pin could overcome.
Biometric controls and measures need to kick passwords to the curb. Users hate when their passwords expire at 10 PM on a Saturday, rendering their mobile device connection to HQ unusable, and IT staff hates it even more when they are paged to conduct a reset. The concept of "expiring credentials" is, quite frankly, nonsense. If you're a valid employee your access should remain valid without the hoops of changing passwords while on a flight to Ireland. We need smarter and more reliable security controls, and 2016 will make headway in this realm.
What do you think is coming to the BYOD field in 2016? Share your feedback in the comments section below.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.