Just a few years ago, mobile devices were the tools of business professionals. The PDA and smartphone giants were Palm and RIM, and these devices were largely restricted to business use. Today, however, smartphones are quickly becoming the mobile communication choice for personal use, with close to half of U.S. adults owning one. This widespread adoption means that more options are available, and devices are upgraded faster than before, with consumers often more able to keep up with the latest mobile technology than companies are. Because of this, many companies and employees alike began to realize the advantages of adopting a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy. Proponents of policies that support BYOD cite the numerous tangible and intangible potential benefits, including:
Potential Cost Savings. Allowing employees to use their own mobile devices has the potential to result in significant savings. In addition to no longer having to pay the cost of supplying – as well as upgrading and replacing – the devices themselves, companies also lose the cost of any outside support and warranties, as well as the monthly service fees associated with the devices. Although many companies offer reimbursements for employees’ out-of-pocket monthly fees, they are often significantly less than what the company would pay.
Preference. Many mobile device users have a clear-cut preference for a specific OS or manufacturer, and are more comfortable using their preferred device. Reports have suggested that the ability to use their mobile device and their preferred platform increases overall employee satisfaction, as well as creates a more positive relationship with IT staff. In turn, many companies who support BYOD policies report a higher mobile platform adoption rate among employees.
However, BYOD is not without potential drawbacks. The main concern, as supported by research from research firm Gartner, is the question of security. Some companies have indicated that their hesitancy to adopt BYOD policies mainly stem from what they perceive as the possibility of security breaches and data loss. Not only do they lose the granular control over the access and security restrictions on company-owned devices – including the ability to remotely wipe or lock a mobile device in the instance of loss or theft – but they also fear that a work device that is also heavily relied upon for personal use faces a higher potential of being lost or contracting malware.
In addition, the use of employee-owned devices for work purposes raises a number of questions regarding the company IT staff’s responsibilities regarding troubleshooting and support. Not only might there be questions as to whether the IT staff should be expected to make troubleshooting employee’s devices available as a resource, but it also raises the issue of requiring multi-platform support for company-specific apps or software.
It’s clear that allowing employees to bring their own devices to work presents numerous potential benefits, as well as significant possible drawbacks. Because of this, what’s right for one company may not be right for another. One company may feel that the benefits are overwhelming and the risks easily mitigated, while another may ultimately decide that the potential for security breaches and extra strain on IT outweigh the benefits. Others still may find a middle ground with a restricted policy, such as providing support for only specific platforms, or limiting BYOD to tablets and not smartphones.
However, regardless of a company’s stance on BYOD, it’s important to have a policy in place that clearly outlines their decision. By unambiguously stating what BYOD is allowed, if any, as well as security and support requirements on the part of both the company and the employees, they can create a clear-cut policy that supports the best interests of the company – whatever they may be.