BYOD Warning Label: Your Actual Results May Vary



A few years back, the comedian Chris Rock did a hilarious bit on the miraculous healing powers of Robitussin®, the over-the-counter, olive-green remedy for coughs and cold symptoms. Be it broken bones or respiratory distress, no malady could overcome the recuperative capabilities of “’tussin,” according to Rock.

Similar mythology has sprung up around Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Over the past half-decade or so, pundits, analysts and other industry observers have waxed reverently on the business-transforming benefits of BYOD. “Sprinkle liberally over your organization to alleviate budgetary woes and improve worker productivity” would read the label if BYOD came in a bottle.

It’s only been recently that experts began to challenge the purported advantages of adopting a company-wide BYOD enterprise mobility strategy. The first BYOD myth to fall: enterprises can reduce costs by transferring mobile device capex to employees.

Recruitment Aid

The next BYOD boast to face formal scrutiny appears to be the oft-repeated declaration that an aggressive bring-your-own policy is a prerequisite for refreshing your workforce with the best and brightest. Millennials, the Internet-borne meme goes, will walk away from a job offer that doesn’t permit the unrestricted use of personal computing and communications tools. The rationale, we’re told, is that under-30 workers are so wedded to their mobile technologies as to be incapable of functioning professionally – at least at their desired level – without them.

That a young professional – or any professional – is going to pass on an otherwise desirable job over a mobile device policy is, in a word, hooey. It’s not hooey because young professionals are indifferent to the communications and computing tools at their disposal. They’re not. It’s hooey because it’s a conclusion drawn from outdated and inaccurate information.

BYOD in a Vacuum

At some point, BYOD, in the minds of many, became synonymous with mobility. The blogosphere is loaded with examples – like this one, quoted below – where BYOD is clearly used as a stand-in for workforce mobilization. The implication is that enterprise mobility doesn’t exist beyond workers using their own smartphones and tablets – or laptops – to do business outside of the office:

“One thing  which has been enabled by BYOD is flexible working hours, which could make it easier for some businesses to get the best staff without worrying about their ability to fulfill a nine-to-five weekday working pattern.”

Replace “BYOD” in the above sentence with “enterprise mobility” and the sentiment makes sense.

The reality is that years before employees started toting their own devices into the workplace, thousands of organizations and millions of end users were sending secure email, messaging, applications and even encrypted voice over corporate-liable smartphones. That the BYOD phenomenon was largely fueled by employees reacting to policies restricting smartphones to business-only uses is an accurate claim. If workers wanted to leverage the same phone for personal and professional uses, BYOD was at one time the only real option.

But that was then. The device management spectrum has since been populated by options that sit between corporate-lockdown and BYOD. The steady adoption of Corporate-Owned, Personally Enabled (COPE) and Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) mobility approaches now provide businesses and end users with a manageable balance of corporate control and personal freedom.

Technologies that enable dual-persona capabilities on mobile devices, such as containers, have also made it possible for employees to use a single device for business and personal communications and computing activities – regardless of whether the device is corporate-issued or personally owned.

The Three Cs

In fact, containerization, COPE and CYOD device management policies, which offer the flexibility to support a roster of popular devices and platforms, have essentially stripped productivity and personal choice issues from the mobile device management debate. Unless a millennial insists that the IT department of her prospective employer support an obscure end point, based on a one-off operating system, chances are the company’s mobile device policy will not hinder her hire.

Yes, there may be some workers who insist on owning their own communications tools. But most professionals, of all ages, are primarily concerned with having access to their preferred devices and platforms. Smartphone or tablet ownership, as this white paper from Ovum indicates, is inconsequential to most employees.

For employers, though, device ownership is a big deal – and getting bigger. Evidence continues to mount that corporate-issued devices better protect organizations from risk management, compliance and legal standpoints.

Mixed Bag

Another BYOD misconception distorting the debate over the role device policy plays in employee recruitment is the notion that enterprises are limited to a single management scenario. The truth is that nearly every organization requires a variety of device management policies – from corporate lockdown to BYOD – depending on the employee’s role, geography, compliance requirements and risk profile.

And given the growing awareness among business leaders of potentially costly and reputation-ruining cybersecurity threats, some organizations are likely to continue to require a Corporate-Owned, Business-Only (COBO) device management policy for a large percentage of employees. Millennials looking to take up employment with government agencies or with regulated businesses – such as those in the financial industry or healthcare, where strict auditing and information handling rules are commonplace – should be forewarned that their device options may be limited, at least when it comes to accessing and storing sensitive information.

The bottom line is that for most millennials entering the job market, access to the mobile tools they require to best do their jobs will not be an issue. Tales of unfettered BYOD being the only path to productive and happy end users turn out to be well-spun myths.

About Joe McGarvey

An Enterprise Mobility Strategist at BlackBerry, McGarvey has covered the enterprise and telecommunications industries for more than 20 years as both a journalist and analyst. He is best-known as a long-time principal analyst at leading market research firm Current Analysis. McGarvey has also been an analyst for Heavy Reading and an editor at several leading technology magazines.

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