This article, by Steve Phillips, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Avnet, Inc., was originally featured on Avnet Insights.
It seems like four letters keep coming up in almost every meeting and conversation that I have: BYOD. Whether I’m talking with colleagues at other companies, business leaders or employees, the Bring-Your-Own-Device (or BYOD) movement is top of mind because it has an immediate and personal impact on how everyone does their jobs.
BYOD is a hot topic, and I enjoy swapping notes on this subject with other CIOs at industry events. They understand that BYOD is in many ways inevitable, but are grappling with developing a BYOD program, especially when it comes to employees using personal laptops and tablets for their companies that meets both business and employee needs.
My general view is that BYOD is to be embraced, but with caution. At Avnet, we had a practice run in 2008 when we integrated personal smartphones into our corporate IT infrastructure. We built on that experience as we began exploring how best to expand our BYOD program to include personal laptops and tablets.
The challenges and opportunities with all three types of devices are very similar, but the stakes are higher—particularly with laptops. Laptops have much more storage and processing power than smartphones, which makes them more capable devices with the potential of doing more harm if not managed adequately. Keep that in mind, because it’s going to come back in a minute.
In the meantime, let’s focus on the basic policy issues you should address in any BYOD program—whether you’re creating it from scratch or refining a policy already in place.
1. Ownership and Costs
Two upfront decisions that companies need to make are a) whether their BYOD programs will be optional or mandatory, and b) whether there will be an employee stipend or allowance to help pay for the personal device.
Mandatory may be neater, of course. Before you go that route though, it’s important to carefully evaluate whether you’re throwing away two of the biggest benefits of BYOD: employee satisfaction and increased productivity. Compelling employees to buy and maintain their own tablets or laptops for business use if they’re not comfortable with it may create more problems than it solves. Employees who aren’t tech savvy enough to keep their anti-virus software updated or manage basic tasks like upgrading applications are going to be a drain on your IT staff (who can find themselves needing to support many different vendors and platforms). It’s probably more efficient in these cases to issue company-owned computers and maintain them yourself than get drawn into solving problems for whatever device is purchased or making the employee solve the situation on their own.
By the same turn, there are a number of employees in any organization who are incredibly tech savvy. They thrive on being allowed flexibility and choice in selecting their devices, while still understanding what they need to do to care for the technology long-term. This type of employee is the reason many companies are offering employees an option of BYOD, but are not mandating it.
It’s also important to keep in mind that ownership goes hand-in-hand with purchase and maintenance costs. Increasingly, companies are considering loan and stipend programs to share the cost of purchasing and maintaining computers for dual personal/professional use. Companies that go this route should calculate a sliding scale that awards financial support according to how much business is actually done on the employee’s laptop.
The final ownership-related question is replacement. If an employee damages/loses their laptop or it’s stolen, who pays to repair or replace it? A common approach is to expect an employee with a BYOD device that is partly or fully-funded by the employer to buy an extended vendor warranty and to have loss/damage insurance protection.
2. Speeds, Feeds and Specs
Once you’re decided on a framework of ownership and compensation policies, the next area to address is the devices themselves. Basically, what computers and tablets should qualify for your BYOD program, and what capabilities do they need?
We learned from our experience with smartphones that developing a definitive list of approved devices is inefficient (and futile!). In the time it takes to certify a tablet or laptop for the program, you’ll have five new models stacked up and waiting. It’s better to issue a list of minimum specifications and allow any device that meets those requirements into your BYOD program.
The baseline capabilities for any device should be:
- Enough memory and processing power to run the applications your company mandates;
- Warranty support and service plans to guard against extended outages. You may want to consider reimbursing some of the costs under the policies described in the previous section; and
- Ability to connect with the company’s network in the office or from the field.
Beyond the basics, employees will need different levels of performance depending on their jobs. Most employees need to run the Microsoft Office Suite. Others will need your proprietary business applications. Decide whether you can impose a single set of standards for everyone or whether you need to create tiers to spare some employees the expense of higher-powered machines.
3. Software and Security
Mobile device management (MDM) software is an often overlooked aspect of BYOD programs, but it should be mandatory for any BYOD program. Without MDM, you’re either wasting money by manually provisioning capabilities for employee-owned computers, or risking your company’s data security, or most likely, both.
MDM software handles functions such as data encryption, segregating company data from personal data, and wiping company data from lost or stolen devices. There is a solid range of mature MDM solutions for smartphone management, but not nearly as many for laptops. (Tablets, although newer than laptops, are easier to match with MDM software than laptops because they run on the same type of operating systems as smartphones.)
Deciding on MDM software that fits your needs can be time consuming, but it pays off. The trick at this stage of their development cycle is finding software that can actually do everything the vendor says it can. Spend a lot of time vetting products and vendors. Your MDM software will be your BYOD program’s foundation, and its safety net.
In just over a year, we’ve seen BYOD evolve from smartphones to laptops and tablets. However, sticking to the three policy elements outlined in this article will provide a solid foundation for any BYOD program, regardless of what the next evolutionary step in technology is. The ownership and costs, technical specifications and security elements can help to create a BYOD program that provides employees with the choice they crave, while still meeting the business goals such as increased employee productivity.