Consumerization and BYOD are often regarded as major headaches for IT management. Control of end user devices is largely ceded in most BYOD implementations, which brings with it all manner of risks ranging from infected devices parading over corporate resources to management headaches when users request support for an unfamiliar device. While BYOD is a visible benefit for end users, it's also a win for IT in that it allows IT to exit the hardware business.
While many larger IT organizations have outsourced hardware provisioning and management on some level, this option has generally been unavailable to smaller organizations. Even for larger companies, some level of IT involvement was necessary in the hardware process, whether it be basic sourcing or a full suite of services ranging from ordering, to inventory management, to provisioning and maintenance. With the popularity of BYOD, this process can be completely transitioned to end users. Somewhat surprisingly, even in organizations where no allowance or subsidy is provided for employees who provide their own equipment, BYOD programs are wildly popular.
In most cases, IT's role is limited to publishing security and hardware standards, and ideally providing checklists for getting employee-owned devices access to the appropriate software tools. The proliferation of cloud-based services has made this task even easier, and for some employees the only application required to access internal infrastructure is the lowly web browser.
Rather than managing a complete end user workstation, in this environment IT tracks software licensing and content stored on the device, an area that would likely require management whether the device were employer or employee owned to begin with. Hardware support goes from full service, to stocking a loaner laptop or two, perhaps a few common power cords, and directions to the nearest major retailers and repair shops.
In several of the companies I've seen, IT articulates a very clear policy that support is the job of the end user, but also provides forums and self-help offerings that can be quite successful. Providing an internal site where users can exchange support tips and maintain FAQs on different devices allows the BYOD community to help each other for a minimal IT cost. For highly mobile users, BYOD may even provide service superior to that of internal IT. Far-flung remote workers who would have to mail their company-owned machine hundreds of miles can take a BYOD device to a local retail outlet or manage service directly with a vendor.
The BYOD future
Just as most employees would find it unthinkable to expect their employer to provide appropriate clothing for their job, save for very limited situations, increasingly we're going to see employees expect to provide their own personal computing devices, with the expectation that their employer provide proprietary tools to get their job done. Early moves into the space can help shape your company's BYOD future. Rather than creating draconian approvals and unreasonable demands, present BYOD as a privilege that requires some common sense and basic security precautions on the part of the employee, in exchange for access to corporate tools on the employee's device.
While there will certainly be bumps along the BYOD road, the opportunity to exit the business of directly acquiring, distributing, managing, and supporting end user hardware is a worthwhile exchange.
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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.