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Marc Staut

BYOD: A revolution on the rise

'Bring Your Own Device' is poised to expand.

April 23, 2012
by Marc T. Staut

TechByte

The latest technology revolution isn’t just under way, it’s about to get bigger.

Hot on the heels of the "consumerization" of IT is a new uprising, one poised to forever change how we use technology at work. Known as "Bring Your Own Device," or BYOD, it promises to provide the workforce with increased flexibility and mobility while possibly lowering costs for IT departments.

The consumerization-of-IT revolution took place after technology devices marketed for personal use—most notably, smartphones and tablets—began being released and adopted faster than corporate IT groups could test, deploy and support them. People bought these devices in droves and brought them—iPhone and Android, iPad and Kindle Fire—to the office.

At many of those offices, IT departments long have controlled the network access and devices used by employees. The desktops, laptops and handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs) issued to employees tend to be solid but unremarkable workhorses that reliably churn out email, reports, and presentations for years despite taking a steady pounding. When selecting these devices, organizations placed top priority on durability and the ability to perform work tasks. Little thought was given to the devices’ weight or their ability to seamlessly integrate into a digital world where 24/7 connectivity blurs the lines between our personal and professional lives.

Many employees, enamored with sleek new smartphones and tablets that fulfill their digital desires, no longer are satisfied with the out-of-date, bulkier technology assigned by employers. These employees want to choose the devices they use at work, and they are willing to spend their own money to do so.

As IT teams put into place the tools and procedures to manage and support BYOD, a subtle but growing shift is taking place. IT departments not only are facilitating the new revolution, but they are also encouraging it.

That’s good, because BYOD is only going to get bigger. The next stage of the revolution will see people wanting to use their own laptops at work.

Driving this development will be the new class of ultraportable computers. The MacBook Air set the standard for these super-thin, lightweight laptops, which combine impressive computing power with remarkably long battery life. New Windows-based ultraportable computers are joining the MacBook Air in the marketplace, once again changing people’s expectations for technology in the workplace.

This trend will accentuate the many opportunities BYOD offers to organizations:

  • BYOD reduces capital expenditures and inventory investment costs because organizations no longer have to keep spare computers and parts on hand.
  • BYOD can lower support requirements considerably, as the IT group becomes responsible only for facilitating a clean connection between those devices and the organization’s servers, instead of having to maintain, say, a battalion of BlackBerrys and a legion of laptops.
  • BYOD, combined with cloud computing, simplifies software support. Once logged on, users work in a virtual-only environment, so IT departments no longer have to maintain an extensive list of applications nor be concerned with version control, no longer worrying about whether the new version of Office will be compatible with Caseware or whether the new Internet Explorer will work with document management plug-ins.
  • BYOD allows for faster deployments of new technology because it dramatically shortens the time needed to test the new device, software or operating system. For example, in a traditional setup, IT departments would need at least a couple of weeks to test an iPad with a new operating system before deploying the iPads to employees. Computer operating systems would take even longer. A new version of Microsoft Office might require a year to fully test. With BYOD, IT has only to test the connectivity and basic usability of the device because the virtual environment itself is static and device agnostic.

    A good example of this would be the upcoming Windows 8, which is geared toward consumers not businesses. In the enterprise, IT would likely test it for several months, to be confident that all of the interrelated applications still work as they should, but also to be able to learn the ins and outs of the interface so well that IT staff members become experts and can answer any questions or troubleshoot any issue. With a BYOD environment, the host OS (Windows 8 in this case, but it could also be Windows 7 or Mac OS) is largely irrelevant. If the host OS can connect new devices to the virtual environment, IT can begin to allow users with new devices to connect and provide a minimal level of support in a matter of days.
  • BYOD increases personal accountability for technology. People are much more invested in protecting a device that they have selected and paid for themselves. This should translate into fewer lost or destroyed devices that the organization must pay to replace.
  • BYOD allows for the consolidation of devices. No one wants to carry around two phones, two tablets or two laptops—one for personal use, the other for business use. With BYOD, employees can use a single device to help manage the information overload of our personal and work lives.
  • BYOD gives employees the opportunity to work with technology they like and know intimately. This increases employee efficiency and job satisfaction, which improves employee effectiveness.

While BYOD brings a lot of positives to the table, this revolution raises more than a few challenges as well. How do you secure your network when you have different kinds of devices connecting to it? How do you deal with security, privacy and legal concerns associated with employees being able to use personal devices to access or even download confidential client and customer data? Find answers to those questions and many more in an upcoming article.

Note: Staut will present the session “Getting Ready for BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology)” June 12 at the Practitioners Symposium and TECH+ Conference in partnership with the Association for Accounting Marketing Summit.

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Marc T. Staut is national director of technology for the Bethesda, Md.-based Reznick Group, one of the 20 largest U.S. accounting firms. Follow his Twitter feed at @mstaut.