Buying into BYOD

More employers are finding that letting employees bring their own smartphones, tablets and laptops to work is actually good for business.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012
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Bringing your child to work for a day was all about creating a nice, warm and fuzzy way make the workplace a softer, nicer place to be.

The concept of "bringing your own device" (BYOD) to work, well, that's got some warm and fuzzy, and personable, connotations too. But what this fast-growing phenomenon really is all about -- aside from dramatically changing the way people work and companies compete -- is it has the potential to make both employees and employers more productive, according to experts in both the human resource and technology fields.

Mobile devices -- primarily smartphones and tablets -- are everywhere. According to ABIResearch, in Oyster Bay, N.Y., 1.2 billion smartphones will enter the global market over the next five years, representing about 40 percent of all handset shipments. On the tablet front, research firm IDC, in Framingham, Mass, reports that global tablet shipments in 2012 will reach 106.1 million units this year.

Also, according to Enterasys Networks, a global provider of wired and wireless network infrastructure and security solutions in Andover, Mass., 74 percent of companies allow some sort of BYOD usage, and 81 percent of employees use at least one device for business use.

"Today, there are hundreds of millions of devices and wireless connections, with most being used for both personal and business use," says Mike Gold, president of Intermedia, a New York-based provider of cloud technology to small and mid-sized businesses. "It's clear the lines between personal lives and work lives have blurred to the point that it is relatively difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends."

David Rosenbaum, CEO and president of Real-Time Computer Services, a technology consulting firm in New York, says BYOD is absolutely a growing trend, fueled by employees who want to use their "cool" products rather than the company's "stodgy" products. Also driving the trend are employees who don't want to carry two separate devices. Finally, there are a growing number of employers who are happy to avoid the capital cost for devices (and, sometimes, also the monthly recurring usage costs).

"Each of these motivators can represent real benefits both to the employer and to the employee, but there are real risks, too," Rosenbaum says, rattling off corporate and personal data security as the most obvious.

Joe Santana, CEO and founder of Joseph Santana Consulting, which specializes in diversity and inclusion assessments, diagnostics and solution development, says BYOD is also one way to attract, engage and retain the millennial generation.

The new approach, however, calls for changes in HR policies that focus on maintaining required security, he says, while not owning or controlling the means to productivity. In fact, he says, a quick way to find the right wording for these new HR policy/usage statements can often be found in the type of language seen in contract confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements. After all, high-level contractors need to access and use company data, but do so using their own devices and networks, Santana says, adding that confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements focus on the appropriate use and protection of information and not on the devices used to manage the information.

Troy Fulton, director of product marketing at Tangoe Inc., a provider of communications-lifecycle-management software and services in Orange, Conn., warns that HR executives, who should be engaged in helping create policies for BYOD, must consider more than cost savings in the decision-making process.

"Allowing employees to connect their own devices to a secure corporate network could invite a host of issues that go far beyond the size of your telecom invoices," says Fulton. To mange this growing BYOD reality, HR executives must consider the three critical factors: data security, work/life balance and, in the end, who rightly owns the data should the employee leave the company.

"Our advice is proceed with caution, though BYOD is a hot trend because, from an IT perspective, these devices already are in play on an unplanned basis," he says.

In terms of setting policy, Shivesh Vishwanathan, senior solutions architect at Pune, India-based Persistent Systems, a global-software product-development firm, says BYOD implementation and policy creation require coordination across multiple internal teams including legal, HR and IT. Most of all, managers must clearly communicate the policy to employees. For example, employees might need to agree to conditions, such as having monitoring and security software on their devices, monitoring of data and their activities from their device, possible wiping of personal data from the device in case of theft or loss of device, and increased security policies including password protection, frequent password changes, etc.

"Overall, companies need to be aware of three important implications of BYOD -- legal, security and privacy -- and have clear policies on each one of these aspects," he says.  

To ensure a smooth transition to BYOD, Vishwanathan says, it's best to create a cross-functional task force that includes relevant stakeholders from the organization, and ensure that they get key stakeholder buy-in and preside over frank discussions on the issues that any BYOD implementation is sure to bring up.

"The costs of implementation (including legal and security risks) should be weighed against the benefits that accrue from the relatively simpler deployments and management of devices," he says.

Be Part of the Process

While the nuts and bolts of data security and data ownership typically fall within the purview of IT, Brandon Hampton, director at wireless-technology consultant MOBI Wireless Management, in Indianapolis, agrees that HR must to be involved in setting policy for those considerations. In MOBI's experience and research, Hampton says, the security risk on the policy and "human" side is typically greater than on the device/hardware side.

"Frankly, there haven't yet been a lot of [data leaks and security breaches] when it comes to BYOD," he says. "The greater risk is that, legally, the courts have not ruled in BYOD environments about who owns the data. Is it the users' data or the company's data, or even the wireless carrier's data?"

Hampton believes the best path is for HR to create a policy and be consistent . . . enforce it and make no exceptions. Also, when companies make the transition from corporate-provided hardware to BYOD, there must be a clear change in policy to match that change.

On the upside, Hampton adds, employers certainly are using BYOD as a recruiting tool with younger talent, people who expect to be able to use their own gear when entering the workforce.

"I believe you will see a blend, with some BYOD users and some corporate-owned hardware users within an enterprise," he says. "If I were running a company, I would be very cautious moving to a BYOD-only environment. It makes sense to use both."

Regarding Hampton's mention of BYOD as a recruiting tool, issues such as work/life balance and employee preference really belong to HR, says Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Tribe Inc., an internal communications agency that advises HR for national and global clients. Cogswell Baskin, for instance, says new generations depend on their technology and, sometimes, employers lag behind.

"These younger employees depend on the technology they use in their personal lives and, if the company doesn't provide it, they'd rather bring their own," she says.

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Cogswell Baskin adds that some employers have been slow to accept new technology in the workplace, particularly where social media is concerned. But younger employees -- and many of their older peers as well -- are so accustomed to using these technologies and tools in their personal lives that they find it unproductive not to have them available at work.

"Imagine if you're used to drinking coffee all day and your office doesn't have a coffee maker," she says. "You'd bring your own, wouldn't you? Well, magnify that 'need' tenfold with BYOD."

Cogswell Baskin says the trend underscores how important it is that employers respond to employee needs -- which will naturally evolve over time and generations -- in order to enable employees to do their best work. She says employees are going to bring their own devices anyway, so it's best to set a policy, communicate it and stay in touch with employees so the policy can evolve with the needs of the business, the wants of the employees and the related complications, such as regulation and security.

Getting Comfortable

Brandy Fulton, vice president of HR operations at Citrix, a technology provider based in Santa Clara, Calif., says that, despite any concerns about -- or fears of -- employees working with personal devices, Citrix, being a technology company, is very comfortable with its BYOD program.

"It's very compelling and a natural for us," she says, admitting that being a technology company does give Citrix an advantage in going this route. "Most of all, we don't have any huge hurdles from the IT perspective. Once we secured the devices, and were confident we had security under control, the company and our employees [became] quite comfortable with BYOD."

Fulton adds that Citrix is quite pleased it can "celebrate" the fact that it's program and policy is part of the company's employee-value proposition.

"Every HR organization is looking to attract and retain the best and the brightest talent," she says. "Increasingly, they are coming in with several devices -- smartphones, netbooks, etc. It's a huge satisfier to tell folks they do not have to give it all up."

Fulton stresses that giving employees the choice reflects the consumerization of IT, whereby people using technology in their everyday lives want to use the same technology in the workplace.

"Employees get a stipend and buy whatever they want," she says. "We definitely use BYOD as a marketing tool in recruiting."

On top of it being a satisfier for employees, she says, it also fits the way Citrix does business, with smartphones, tablets and netbooks becoming an extension of the workforce.

"We all are aware that the line between work and play is blurring, so when our people are working, they want to have their stuff too -- their music and photos," Fulton says, adding that a device such as a tablet can serve as an "in-between" tool if employees only need to do a little bit of work during the course of the day to stay on top of things.

"At the end of day, the genie is out of the bottle regarding how people work today," she adds. "You can work at any time, but setting the boundaries is even more important to manage resources. You need to have meaningful conversations with employees and try to reduce stress. Figuring out how to strike a balance is up to the employee. You can't let the access and the machines control you."

As for policy and data security, Fulton says, it's really not any different for BYOD vs. the company-provided hardware Citrix provides.

"The security policies are really the same," she says. "The beauty of a BYOD program is IT is not in the business of keeping up with every new platform. And for things such as disaster recovery, [if employees are] working from home, IT [professionals do] not have to manage personal-device use remotely, which reduces cost."

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