Tablets

The benefits of Bring Your Own Tablet initiatives

Find out why Patrick Gray believes that BYOT initiatives add some complexity to the IT environment, but you can frequently gain much more than you give up.

As a consultant, I frequently wander the hallways of larger companies. It's not generally part of my consulting work, but it's always interesting to observe the changes in the technology the workers of the world are deploying -- both systems provided by their employer and devices they bring to work on their own accord.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has been all over the IT press for years, but in the last 6 to 12 months, I've seen the effects, even in fairly traditional companies with century-old names and brands more associated with the past than revolutionary technology. As IT leaders struggle to determine which mobile devices they should deploy as corporate standards, their users are quietly performing their own tablet evaluations and purchasing programs, bringing the results into the workplace.

The quiet IT revolution

Like many historical questions of great import, IT leaders generally fall into one of two camps -- the first trying to accommodate users who want to bring their tablets to work, subject to varying rules and policies, and the second striving for outright prohibition. Increasingly, outright prohibition is being seen as a failed policy, especially since in the face of prohibition, many users opt for selecting their own IT services from free and low-cost providers, and the risks companies face simply aren't worth it. The key question becomes what policies should be put in place that preserve the integrity of the IT environment, while allowing users the flexibility that prompted them to buy a tablet in the first place.

Email, the old stalwart

One of the easiest end-user wins for tablets and mobile devices is the old stalwart of email and groupware. All the modern tablet operating systems support the "usual suspects" on the email front, with the most common email platform, Microsoft Exchange, enjoying broad support. Even less popular email systems are generally supported, and it's fairly easy for users to self-provision email and calendar access on a variety of tablets.

Mobile access to email and calendaring are easily quantified productivity boosters, and with the proliferation of smartphones, they're generally not the most risqué of applications to allow on tablets. Email also presents a great starting point for BYOD efforts, so that you can educate your users to follow basic security standards and policies in exchange for access to corporate systems.

The horse trade

When speaking to users in an environment where BYOD for tablets seems especially prevalent, most acknowledge that BYOD is what amounts to a privilege, and they've readily complied with basic security requirements. In many organizations, this is as simple as a step-by-step web site that explains how to install any required applications and implement security settings. You should also detail what circumstances will trigger a remote device wipe and how you'll handle personal information that's likely on users' tablets.

From an IT management perspective, you might perceive that IT holds all the cards, demanding that users who want access to IT's systems must comply with all manner of requirements, however onerous. I'd suggest that this is the wrong approach. If your policies lack transparency and contain overly-restrictive elements, like device seizures without compensation, or lack clarity around what personal information you'll monitor, you'll likely ferment angst around IT that will only mount as personally-owned tablets become more popular.

Another nuance to most tablet-related BYOD efforts is that the users who tend to bring tablets into the workplace are usually reasonably technically savvy and fairly high on the organizational food chain. With tablets being a fairly expensive luxury, and mobile connectivity being a feature desired by up-and-comers, this is generally a demographic that can easily be made either huge proponents of internal IT or outspoken critics. In addition to gaining some fans, allowing Bring Your Own Tablet (BYOT) initiatives gets IT out of the business of purchasing, provisioning, and maintaining tablet hardware, and can let your users fund what amounts to a tablet test deployment.

Rather than alienating tablet-toting users, consider allowing easy access to basic applications like email and calendaring, plus internal web-based applications. In return for adding some complexity to the IT environment, you can frequently gain much more than you give up.

Has your organization employed BYOT initiatives? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.

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About

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 ...

7 comments
themacjesus
themacjesus

As far as BYOD is concerned for the average user, the benefits include choice of device, choice of apps, the freedom to customize the device as their own and the ability to work while away, if they so desire. True this will not apply to all users generally, but most end-users feel like IT's mindset for years has been authoritative at best and absolutely iron-fisted at worse. This "draconian" mentality on behalf of IT may have been necessary at times and in certain organizations, but IT is dynamic - not static. We have to roll with the punches so to speak and if the current wave (due to a combination of younger end-users entering the work force, more tech savvy employees, economic downturn and cut-backs on non-essential spending, etc) means that corporations cannot (or do not want to) spend $$$ per user on a tablet or smartphone, or both, then this offers up a unique solution to both parties. Enterprise can offset the expenditure by allowing the end-user's to foot the bill for a device they may already own and users can feel empowered to use their personal equipment for work, if they so choose. It also brings with it a certain comfort level that they can work from where ever they are and with the apps they are familiar with - so long as the job gets done. As far as Enterprise is concerned, they will need to make adjustments to support such traffic on their networks. But most of the time, with the heavy shift to web-based (cloud) apps, this is a non-issue really and secured access to company servers can be implemented using a variety of low-cost, industry-standard solutions, like VPN for encryption, VLANs for network switching and security policies on the devices themselves - even on corporate email/Exchange! Lastly, as far as support goes, this is a biggie. Being the sole IT support at my location, this one kind of falls between my skillset and my judgement. Personal devices - even if used for work - are taken on a case by case basis, at my sole discretion. There is no policy in place to address this issue, but the company outlook is basically "if it's procured by the company, you support it; if not, you decide how to proceed". With that said, I do my best to support all devices equally. However, there are times/situations where the work load does not allow me to fully-support the personal device(s) or they have been dropped and may need a part replacement that is out of warranty. In these cases, the issue may be resolved through other means, either through out of warranty repair by authorized repair services or other options, as related. Bottom line, BYOD is not for everyone and even if it works for your company, not all facets may be a perfect fit. But it is a two-part solution and both the company and the end-user need to sign-off on it and make the necessary changes to make it work out as best as possible.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

BYOT and BYOD assumes that the devices / tablets in question can meet acceptable security measures and can NOT be used as a conduit to infiltrate the corporate security. They also assume that the people want to do so. They assume that the company is happy with having company info on systems the company has no control over, or the owner is happy to let the company play about with his device / tablet. They assume the device will be useful getting corporate stuff over the Internet and the owner is happy to pay for that - - most of the world pays for download by the MB, unlike the free or low cost unlimited download plans in the USA. (edit to add - or low cost unlimited) And not a word of how the company intends to deal with an employee who refuses to BYOD / BYOT at all, but demands the company provide one at company expense if they want him to use it. I know of one company that refused to buy IT admins cell phones or pay for cell phone services, they also refused to pay on call payments to make staff stay available on a phone during the weekend. until the failure to contact an admin one weekend cost them $250,000 in penalty fees due to the inability to meet contract terms due to a simple hardware problem any of the admins could fix if they could have been reached, but were all away from home for the long weekend. Pinch pennies and waste pounds, typical accountant type behaviour as they can see the pennies each week in the bills but not the pounds hidden in the contracts. The cost of the penalty got taken from the accounting branch budget as the finance officer was the one who refused the IT manager the approval to buy the admins cell phones at company expense or pay stand by fees. He didn't like that, but the GM agreed it was his decision that incurred the expense.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

turn in an expense claim for the device, the connectivity and any software purchased to allow connecting to company servers/services? Is this expensed from IT? Added as an employee "benefit" much like health insurance, pension, 401K plans and such? To me this entire BYOD idea appears as a "cost shifting", where the employee is now responsible for the expense, unless allowed to claim the costs. Even in such a case, it's still a cost shift, from direct IT cost to "employee benefit", which as we know many companies scrutinize for places to reduce those expenses already. Nobody wins, despite all the hype and glorifications of BYOD. I didn't even touch on the device support...who is responsible for fixing a broken device, because it WILL occur. There are still many questions left unanswered or only half answered, most of the answers read more like a sales brochure rather than an actual policy.

mark1408
mark1408

In this and similar articles I still don't see the actual "benefits". These stories tend to focus on telling IT chiefs to accommodate BYOD (and please, not BYOT - we have enough abbreviations to do deal with as it is) rather than fight it. The word "win" appears above in connection with giving users access to email from their personal tablet device. Surely they can already do that via webmail. And where's the "win"? Presumably it's the saved cost of not buying a device. Instead of that, we have to jump through hoops to protect users' personal data and adjust policies accordingly. In my view, if my company needs staff to access company systems away from the office we should give them what they need. But like I say, maybe I'm missing the point.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"...most of the world pays for download by the MB, unlike the free download plans in the USA." I haven't seen any 'free' download plans in the USA. Unlimited, yes; free, no.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

say things along the lines of "$X phone plan includes $Y of calls and free data download." That implies, to me anyway, you pay for the phone calls and get free data. However, even low charge unlimited download plans aren't available in most countries.