Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) could be one of the most compelling shifts in corporate technology or IT's worst nightmare, depending on whom you believe. The idea is fairly simple: as technology becomes more intimately personal, employees should be allowed to purchase and use their own technology like laptops, phones, and tablets.
Proponents say that since corporate data and applications are increasingly run on servers or private clouds, an employee wanting a fashionable pink laptop or Mac should be able to purchase and use one with minimal impact to IT. Furthermore, this gets IT out of the hardware purchasing and maintenance business.
The counterarguments invoke the usual suspects of any large-scale change in corporate technology infrastructure: security and management. Nearly everyone with some technical skill has encountered the family member or friend with a computer jammed with nefarious software. I recall a family member with a computer so infected that advertisements with less-than-tasteful web sites would begin to pop up as soon as the computer booted, without even touching a single key. IT has a legitimate concern that these types of machines would cause more problems than they would solve when introduced into a corporate network.
While both sides have compelling arguments, what they often lack is valid experimental data. There are companies that have done wildly successful BYOD initiatives -- and likely just as many where the idea failed miserably. Tablets, however, present an opportunity to kill several birds with one stone: performing a low-cost BYOD test in your company, testing multi-platform tablet applications, and allowing a general test of the usefulness of tablet computing.
Purchasing a fleet of shiny new tablets may not fit into your IT budget, but your staff likely already has several tablet-toting individuals, many of whom may already be bringing the devices into work and connecting them with corporate networks. Leveraging this fact lets you test the feasibility of tablets and BYOD simultaneously, which could turn a minor potential nuisance into a beneficial exercise.
Allowing employee-owned devices for this exercise also increases the likelihood that you'll cover most of the big players in the tablet space. While you'll likely find several iOS devices already in the hands of employees, there's also a good chance individuals have Android, RIM, or even HP's ill-fated Touchpad OS available. Looking close to home, your IT employees with these devices likely performed a painstaking analysis on which device to spend their own hard-earned cash on, and they can probably save your department some of the formal research on the nuances among the dozens of different Android tablets, for example.
From a BYOD perspective, tablets represent a relatively low-risk way of experimenting with personal devices on corporate networks. With less capability (and less malicious software), tablets present fewer opportunities for bad software, poor configurations, and nasty viruses or malware. They also have near zero enterprise management capability, so they present an opportunity to see if these capabilities will be sorely missed or deemed largely irrelevant on this type of device. The diversity of tablet operating systems also gives you a great chance to see if everything from internal web sites to corporate applications are ready for tablet computing or will require major overhauls and enhancements.
There's a near 100% chance that employees in your company (and IT in particular) are already bringing tablet devices to work and potentially connecting them to your network and company resources. Rather than spending time to stamp out this practice, co-opt the situation into a useful test of tablet computing and BYOD. You may learn that this could be a highly valuable initiative for your company, or gather the experiential data to back up your claims that employee devices have no place on your network. In either case, you'll also appreciate the capabilities of a broad sample of tablet devices and have a benchmark as to how ready your internal systems are to support tablet computing.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.