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Comment: Why the BYOD boom is changing how we think about business IT

Organisations can benefit from letting staff use their gadgets at work, says Richard Oliver, but only if clearly defined policies are in place

BYOD, or 'bring your own device', is the latest IT buzz acronym. Although the idea's been around for a while, there is a real shift towards allowing employees to use consumer-type devices in the workplace that marks a step change in the way people consume and think of business IT.

Although commonly accepted, I think the term BYOD may be a little misleading, as it gives the impression that employees are able to use their own personal devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to access corporate networks and applications.

This may be true for some but, in my experience, what's actually happening is that companies often give employees the latest consumer-type devices, rather than the traditional 'business' kit. They then use them in the work environment, but also in their personal lives - whether that be taking personal photographs on a camera phone or using a company tablet for surfing the Internet at home.

Supplying the devices to employees reduces the issues around device selection and longevity - two issues that have been touted as concerns by the industry - as well as support, as there will be a limited range of types to look after. However, BYOD can still present some challenges if it isn't fully thought through.

As with any rollout, CIOs and IT directors cannot take a 'one size fits all' approach, as the way the CEO and members of the board use technology will be very different to a new graduate recruit, for example. There have to be clear guidelines around what employees can and can't do with devices attached to the company's network - whether they own the device or not. This must be communicated to everyone internally.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, recent research carried out by BT iNet revealed that this wasn't the casethere is confusion between employees and employers when it comes to the use of devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops in the workplace; two-thirds (68 per cent) of employers claim to have policies in place, but only 39 per cent of employees appear to be aware of them.

This was further highlighted when we asked about how the policies were communicated. Just over half of employers believe that their policy was widely communicated, compared to just 18 per cent of employees who feel that this is the case.

When it came to security - one of the main concerns around BYOD - 78 per cent of organisations we questioned said that they had communicated the security risks to their employees, yet less than a third admitted to doing it regularly; 68 per cent of employees said that they had been told only once or not at all.

In contrast, when it comes to data, opinions appear aligned, with nearly half (49 per cent) of employers and 43 per cent of employees believing their employer has the right to wipe data if a device is lost or stolen.

What is clear from the research and from talking to customers and peers is that there are some crucial points that need to be considered.

The starting point should always be to define why you're rolling out a BYOD strategy and then speak to those it's going to impact - whether that's end-users, the IT team or HR. By engaging everyone involved at an early stage, you can ensure you get their 'buy-in' but also begin working through related policies. It is also worth talking to an expert around how BYOD could best work for your company; we have an expert team led by Stuart Bryden, which has plenty of experience of helping companies work out what's best for them.

In order for any BYOD programme to be successful, it is essential to look at your network infrastructure and ensure that it can cope with demand. We talk to customers about a 'Business Ready Network' (BRN), which has the capabilities a business requires, with the ability to grow to meet future demand.

Once you have a BRN, the next step is to finalise and document all elements of the BYOD policy, and share it with everyone or make it easy for people to find. It should include topics like how the programme works, what can and can't be done on devices, what happens if the device gets lost or damaged and what the policy is on wiping data if the device is lost. Once you have the policy in place, you need to build in regular reviews.

Having a clear strategy around BYOD and getting the basics right - both from a technology and policy perspective - are essential, but so is communicating with employees about what they can and can't do. Get those three things right and a BYOD programme will deliver real business benefits. *

Richard Oliver is marketing director at BT iNet

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