BYOD: Bring your own device could spell end for work PC
Do you dream of a world where you have your choice of laptop, smartphone or tablet at work; all of which connect seamlessly one to another, and are constantly updated?
Sitting at your desk, feeling the red mist descend as your ancient XP desktop computer tries and fails to open your inbox, this might seem like an impossible dream. But for some people that day is already here.
But there could be a catch.
It's about a year since we last covered BYOC - bring your own computer. This refers to companies who offer staff the chance to choose the devices they use for work - a laptop, or perhaps desktop or Mac. Even a tablet.
Where this happens the company might cover either all or part of the expense, on the understanding that the employee also purchases a support package. Or it might simply provide software to allow employees to access a virtual desktop on their own devices.
Most schemes allowed for access via a virtual private network or similar software application to ensure that data was held securely on the company servers.
Since then, BYOC has become BYOD - bring your own device.
In the last year the level of smartphone and tablet ownership has sky-rocketed, and with it the trend towards the consumerisation of IT. In other words, business IT organisations have come under ever-increasing pressure to let their employees choose what they use to do their work on.
While many firms follow the traditional route of offering a stipend or some sort of financial incentive, others expect their employees to pick up the tab.
A survey covering 17 countries by business technology company Avanade found that 88% of executives said employees were using their own personal computing technologies for business purposes.
Absolute Software found that 64% of IT managers surveyed thought it was too risky to let personal devices be integrated into the business network. However 52% of companies allowed some form of access.
Another survey by Cisco found that although 48% said their company would never authorise employees to bring their own devices, 57% agreed that some employees use personal devices without consent.
And 51% said the number of employees bringing their own devices to work is on the rise.
A completely unscientific straw poll carried out on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, suggested that many people were aware of BYOD policies. For some, the ability to choose how they access the network was an important factor in choosing an employer.
Many felt however, that they should expect some financial contribution towards the equipment.
Foot in both camps
Ian Foddering is the chief technology officer and technical director for Cisco UK and Ireland. He says companies need to have a policy on BYOD.
"We've been in the interesting position for the last 12-18 months. I look at what our clients are doing. Up until recently they've been deciding whether to block it or embrace it.
"Beforehand most people were ignoring it [but now] you'll certainly find the more progressive organisations have embraced it."
Cisco also runs a BYOD programme for its own employees.
They have the choice of either using company-issued laptops and phones, or buying their own.
If they choose to use an Apple Mac, the company won't provide IT support. This is done instead through internal wikis and mailers where other employees offer possible solutions to their IT woes.
Mr Foddering says users find they prefer this to having to use the IT department.
When it comes to recruiting young talent, he says company research found that offering a choice of device was an important consideration to potential employees.
"We found globally that 40% of college students and 45% of employees would accept a lower paying job with a choice of device, than a higher paying job with less flexibility."
Absolute Software's Stephen Midgley agrees.
"We're actually hearing from our own customers, during the interview process, where potential employees are asking what kind of device they will be able to use to access the network."
He also stresses that companies need to consider the security of their networks and data.
"It's the new reality for organisations, and IT needs to find an effective way to securely manage these devices. What we've seen is a cultural divide between IT and the rest of the organisation.
"IT thinks about security, that's their job, the rest of the organisation doesn't."
Making secure behaviour the easiest option is the best way to get employees to cooperate, says Mimecast's Justin Pirie.
"Companies need to make sure they have the facilities to support the 'right' behaviour with the proliferation of devices.
"This has to mean that the 'right' behaviour also becomes the 'easiest' behaviour."
It's not just the young that are pushing to use their own devices at work, according to VMware's Joe Baguley. The company is a virtualisation and BYOD specialist.
"It's definitely a trend that's increasing," he says.
"As technology is getting to more and more people, like my parents and my wife who are now using IT more than ever before and seeing what's possible.
"It's not just the under-30s turning up from university with their iPads and iPhones. People talk about the consumerisation of IT, the problem is that the users have turned into consumers. It's consumerisation of the users with IT departments struggling to keep up."
The company is in the process of launching Horizon Mobile, software that allows you to run both business and personal phones from one handset.
This means that should the phone be lost, or the employee leaves, any company data on the phone can be remotely wiped. The work phone can also be switched off leaving the personal phone still connected.
Another company which has seen BYOD policies increase over the last year is Good Technology.
"If I go back 12 months we would have discussions about companies providing smartphones as an alternative to Blackberries, but they would still be owned and managed by the company," says Good's Andy Jacques.
"Now it's almost exclusively about BYOD."
The trend is powered not only by the growth in mobile devices, but by cloud computing, with companies able to buy ready-to-go virtual desktops.
Mr Jacques sees big advantages especially for small businesses.
"If I was a small business owner the last thing I would be doing would be buying employees phones and laptops," he says.
"I wouldn't put any servers in my office, I would put everything into the cloud, I wouldn't implement any software on the premises."
According to Brian Gentile, CEO of business intelligence (BI) company Jaspersoft, the BYOD trend has been key in pushing consumerisation, and in pushing the uptake of business applications on personal smartphones and tablets.
The company has just launched its software as a mobile application.
"Recently [technology analysts] Gartner reported that by the end of 2013, approximately 33% of BI will be consumed from a mobile device, which is just remarkable given a couple of years ago the number was zero."
One thing seems sure: companies have to make decisions about how they are going to handle employee demands to use their own devices, or risk devices being used on the network without their knowledge.
Phil Lieberman of Lieberman Software certainly thinks so. He believes companies need to talk to their IT departments to find a solution.
"I guess that many chief information officers who approve employee device usage see this as a nice way to make their bonuses by further reducing costs, while the potential liabilities are above their pay grades.
"Perhaps corporate management believes that this is simply a way to get more out of their employees - a type of electronic leash - without having to pay the cost of the devices or service; all without considering the legal consequences."