Coping with BYOD

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Smartphones are increasingly becoming part of everyday life (photo credit: deszedol, flickr)

Smartphones are increasingly becoming part of everyday life (photo credit: deszedol, flickr)

Oon Yeoh Profile PicOne of the hottest trends happening at the work place is the phenomenon of workers bringing their own devices to the office and using them for work purposes, otherwise known within the industry as “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)”.

The most common of these devices, of course, is the smartphone, something everybody carries with them almost everywhere these days. And with smartphones having the computing power approaching that of a low-level laptop, it’s quite possible to do work on these devices. Of course it’s not just smartphones that people are bringing to work. Tablets and laptops are increasingly being brought to the workplace, too.

Is this a good thing? That is a hot topic of debate right now. For sure there are many advantages to BYOD. For the employer, it could mean reduced cost on IT hardware and software. If workers are bringing their own laptop to work, they don’t need to be supplied a company laptop. The software they use are also, naturally, their own. That’s another cost-saving for the company.

For workers, the motivation is the convenience of using a device they know so well and not having to adapt to an unfamiliar device assigned to them by the IT department of a company. A lot of times, devices the employees own may actually be newer or more advanced than the ones the company supplies. A worker with outdated equipment is a frustrated worker. And a frustrated worker is not a productive worker.

Many have also claimed that morale and productivity increase when employees are allowed to use familiar devices that they like rather than being forced to learn and use devices imposed upon them.

Another reason workers like BYOD is that it allows them to consolidate their computing and informational needs into one place instead of having to use a work computer in the office and a personal computer at home.

While there are many advantages to BYOD, there is one very clear disadvantage and one not-so-clear downside.

The main gripe about BYOD in the enterprise concerns security.  When devices are issued by the IT department, the company has full control over such devices. When workers bring their own devices to the workplace and start plugging them into the system, there is a plethora of security concerns about viruses and malware – and also about potential leakage of classified information.

A company that allows BYOD is probably a company with a stressed-out IT department which could be constantly batting potential security breaches. In the end, whatever cost savings BYOD offers might be outweighed by the cost of managing BYOD security.

It would be easy enough to say that companies should just save themselves potential security headaches by banning BYOD but it’s a trend that is hard to stop. A rule against bringing a laptop to work might be implementable but can a company ban tablets or smartphones?

The harsh reality is that whether a company allows BYOD or not, workers are bringing their own devices to work. And they are using it – perhaps mainly for personal reasons like updating their Facebook status or checking on the latest tweets. Inevitably some employees would also use their own devices for checking work e-mail.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that 88% of consumers use a personal mobile device for both personal and work purposes. Every company should have clearly-established BYOD guidelines, much like how some companies now have social media guidelines. Employee education, especially on security matters, is crucial to making BYOD work for a company.

A company that allows or supports BYOD should deal with the issue of cost too, specifically who pays for what. If a person uses his or her own smartphone rather than the company phone, for work purposes, should the company pay for his phone bill and data plan? If a person uses his own laptop, should the company pay for his anti-virus program? What if a personal device breaks down while the employee is using it for work; should the company pay for its repair?

These are the kinds of things that a company should be prepared to deal with as BYOD is not going away and will only increase in popularity.

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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