TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: Bring-your-own-device disaster

The unstoppable 'bring your own device' trend, or BYOD, is coming and companies need to stop sitting on the fence with the issue and decide on whether to allow or ban devices in the workplace.

Technology Spectator

When Gartner client computing analyst, Leslie Fiering gave a presentation on BYOD, she went as far as using a Star Trek pun to push her point on how crucial it is to act on BYOD.

"Resistance is futile,” were the words she displayed on her powerpoint, flashing a picture of ‘borg-ified’ Captain Jean-Luke Picard behind her.

Well apparently, some companies continue to resist.

This week it was revealed that Westpac doesn’t have a BYOD policy.

"We've been piloting a number of consumer devices in the workplace but what we've found so far is that the demand for BYOD isn't there,” Westpac CIO Clive Whincup says.

"We'll continue to watch the trend of BYOD as a future possibility, but at this stage we're focusing our on other priorities.”

And he’s not alone; National Australia Bank (NAB) also doesn’t have a BYOD policysays it is rethinking its stance on the issue but is primarily concerned about the cyber security risks of introducing one.

Commonwealth Bank is one step ahead of NAB saying that it’s running a "highly successful pilot”, but its assertion also shows it lacks an established company-wide policy.

It’s a dangerous position to be in considering Gartner is so sure BYOD will permeate workplace in the near future that rather than predicting the uptake of the trend itself, the analyst firm is now trying to pinpoint its milestones.

The analyst firm predicts that by 2013, 80 per cent of companies will have policies in place to support tablet computers. It goes on to predict that by 2014, 90 per cent of all corporates will deploy their own applications on staff-owned devices.

CIOs as gatekeepers

And that’s where Rhys Evans, the national practice director of infrastructure services at Thomas Duryea Consulting comes into the picture.

Evans specialises in helping companies harness their BYOD strategy in order to improve productivity – that’s assuming that they have one.

He contends that companies should be moving beyond the BYOD debate and instead look at how to best harness the trend.

According to Evans, some CIOs are acting as gatekeepers against the trend despite pressure from both the boardroom and the employees to act on BYOD.

"They are worried about keeping their budget in check,” he says.

Evans adds that the difficulty in measuring the impact of BYOD on a workplace often makes it hard to make a business case for the change.

"And BYOD solutions can be quite costly.”

The one thing Evans is quite sanguine about is that the argument of no employee demand for BYOD simply does not stand up.

"The problem is, not all employees go up to the IT desk with their device,” Evans says.

"A good BYOD solution needs to be easy to use and automatic… not forcing staff to approach IT every time they want to use a device.”

Evans says that two companies, Citrix and Met-app, have what he would call a good BYOD policy.

It may seem a little extreme, but according to Evans, both companies force their staff to either provide their own tools for work or alternatively purchase them at a discounted rate through the company.

From that point onwards, the company fully supports the workers' devices with both network access and applications required for the job.

BYOD policy gone wrong

Yet while BYOD is on our doorstep and the pressure to cave into the trend is overwhelming, cyber security companies like Symantec are more than happy to elucidate what will happen if a CIO gets their BYOD policy wrong.

According to the latest Symantec report on data breaches, a hacked mobile device in an organisation can be a serious security issue, with hackers looking to piggyback employee devices into a workplace’s network.

But we are fast closing on a BYOD point of no return and companies need to pick a side on this tech debate.

Either adopt the trend or bar your staff’s devices. It’s no longer good enough to just sit on the fence.

At the very least, making a decision will let a company’s staff know where they stand on the issue.

It may frustrate staff that they can’t use their tablet or phone at work, but at least they’ll know where the company stands on the issue and won't keep using their devices' 3G connection at work in the hope that one day they will gain access the network.