The falling promises of BYOD

Four years ago I was very proud of the first piece I published in a professional context ( I’d looked at the Bring Your Own Device phenomenon, and described it as an innovative wave that would disrupt IT structures everywhere. I had thrown my opinion into the discussion of what was, without any doubt, the hottest topic in IT at the time.

At the time my opinion, and that of many of my peers, was that BYOD was an incredible new tool that would fix all sorts of problems for any of the companies we were dealing with. It had almost become a cliché part of our presentations, because it felt like any proposal to a new client was incomplete without a BYOD recommendation.

I think in consulting, perhaps particularly in IT which is such a fast-moving segment, we don’t always take time to look back, to review the things we have said in the past and the opinions we have expressed. Ultimately I think that is a mistake, probably because the segment changes so quickly. We are often asked to form opinions quickly, and sometimes we choose to. Either way it is a good idea to apply a bit of critical analysis to the things we have said in the past, and determine if they are still true, or for that matter if they were ever true.

BYOD Has Been a Game Changer

The concept of BYOD was integrated into corporate IT organisations quickly, and the initiatives that developed out of it have multiplied since. The market believed the change in behaviour was about cost, but I believed that it was primarily a question of user satisfaction. For companies that have taken on the BYOD principles, by adopting an environment where employees can use their own toys, they have seen Apple Macs, iPads and other exotic devices flourish on their office floors. These new toys are now being used to do the same tasks, in almost the same manner, but without the IT investment by the company itself. Instead, they have passed the risk and burden of ownership onto the employee.

This created significant challenges for device management in these organisations, but as the concept developed many companies saw the opportunity in another way. BYOD initiatives now target less complex devices like phones and tablets. These devices don’t require wholesale system adjustments and security protocols, but can be implemented into the company sometimes with something as simple as a SIM card.

But whatever policy a company has chosen, or whatever form the BYOD concept has taken, as a phenomenon it has fostered the introduction of consumer technologies inside the walls of many companies, often faster than the company has been able to industrialise it.

Then the Idea Burnt Away

BYOD is another IT topic that burnt like then sun, then disappeared as fast as it had arrived. It was never really adopted in a large scale, at least not in the manner originally intended. And it never really gained any traction or attention from serious IT executives. This is possibly because for some time we, the IT management consultants, have not been able to successfully demonstrate a viable business case for the concept, mostly because the benefits can be difficult to measure.

I believe, however, that this fading of the concept is because the industry as a whole has underestimated the ability of companies to move their legacy into the Cloud, which is for me a hard pre-requisite for a successful BYOD strategy (actually, it’s a pre-requisite for a lot of things we’ve been speaking about). A cloud-based IT system allows the company to dissociate issues relating to their applications with issues relating to the new, diverse range of devices.

Finally, the monolithic architectures being pushed by technology providers (mainly those from Seatle and Cupertino) have not helped to open standards and assist with the adoption of BYOD in its ideal form. This is partly because the discussion and genesis of the idea of BYOD has occurred during an economic client where Invest in the Future has not been high on the agenda for many CFOs. While the concept is intended to reduce the cost and expense of replacing and providing IT equipment, the infrastructure investment needed to facilitate it is not necessarily attractive, even though that is a one-off spend, and the benefits are long term.

Despite Failing to Meet its Promises…

Despite the fact BYOD never really got the engagement that it deserved, it has contributed to the evolution of a Next Generation of IT.

Beyond all its issues BYOD has pushed security into the centre of the playing field again. Many companies traditionally treated IT security primarily via anti-intrusion and virus protection platforms. With even just the initial discussion of BYOD, companies have now started to invest in data protection and confidentiality behaviours. This has been a massive, and necessary shift, as the old security models were not able to tackle the concepts of mobility and collaboration that are becoming so crucial to success in this space. New security architectures are now being invented, being innovated.

The Security Officer (or the Thought Police, depending on where you stand), is no longer the Guardian of the Server the way they once were. Now these roles are given to people who are business partners who will work with the workforce to assist with the development and continuity of the collaborative workspaces we want to see.

BYOD has also contributed to the development of bimodal IT operation models. We saw that the issues around proprietary applications demonstrated how hard it was to evolve a company’s IT legacy. The development of a cloud based service was crucial, then discussions began around who you would engage to manage those cloud applications. This paradigm shift in IT created a secondary industry, a number of companies whose sole purpose is to maintain someone else’s cloud-based applications.

This service then developed further. Now that there are consumer and professional devices in the company, who do you set up for user support? And what level of support do you provide to each category?

BYOD has forced IT organisations to reinvent themselves in order to improve their agility, and if not win, at the very least not lose the race for innovation. The desire of the workforce to embrace this concept has meant more work for businesses to get on board with the trend, while still keeping tight reins on their expenditure.

Has It Been a Game Changer?

When you start a discussion with a big statement like that, you need to come back to it at the end. So, has BYOD changed the way IT is managed now?

In my opinion it has. BYOD has shown businesses that they need to have their IT more aligned with the consumer space; faster, more agile, sexier. As a result of that the BYOD phenomenon has been a powerful catalyst for the transformation of the digital workplace, and subsequently the modern IT company.