Financial savings are one of the arguments for letting staff use their own devices at work. But bigger costs and risks are at stake elsewhere for the organisation, says Rob Bamforth.
In all the talk about the consumerisation of IT, it's the encroachment of consumer mobile devices - in particular smartphones and tablets - that appears to be causing most passion.
The pro argument generally consists of the following strands: employees are already used to better tools in their personal life, we have to do this to recruit a younger workforce, our brand will suffer if we're not seen as leading edge, and it's cheaper.
Whatever the reality or merits of the first three, the last point about cheapness deserves closer investigation along with the impact on organisational security.
The problem is that allowing employees to pick, choose, buy and bring their own mobile tools into the workplace seems like simply outsourcing a particular procurement issue to someone who cares more passionately about it. However, it brings a lot more baggage than the neat little black or white cardboard box the hardware arrives in.
There are three significant aspects to mobile consumerisation - device, contract and content. Device is the part that most focus on, and why not? It's the shiny gadget that has become cool and desirable. It taps into people's feelings about self-esteem and status as well as any social needs for connection or geeky desire for the latest toy.
These devices are expensive so, on the face of it, encouraging employees to BYOD - bring/buy your own device - saves money.
But there are bigger costs and risks at stake elsewhere for the organisation. Mobile devices typically need network contracts, unless relying on pay-as-you-go or free wi-fi for connection.
All-embracing corporate contracts come with many financial economies of scale that a chaotic collection of independent employee ones will lack. Quocirca has explored this challenging issue more fully in its recent free-to-download report Carrying the can.
The third area, content, is equally complex. Whoever owns and pays for a mobile device - employee or employer - its use is likely to straddle personal and business activities. In addition to communications tools and access for business applications, there will always be a mass of consumer content.
For smartphones and tablets, content includes both software and data. The line is often blurred, and despite many technical and religious discussions, the underlying issues of enterprise control of costs and risks apply either way.
The convergence of work and personal content on one device, no matter who purchased the hardware or pays for the connection, raises the issues of content security, suitability and diligence.
For most organisations, mobile security is a major concern, and rightly so, as it is not only malicious acts such as theft and hacking or the careless loss of a device that might lead to breaches of security. Simply cutting corners for the sake of expediency will not do.
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Rob Bamforth is a principal analyst at user-facing analyst house Quocirca. As part of the Quocirca team, which focuses on technology and its business implications, Bamforth specialises in communication, collaboration and convergence.