My thoughts on BYOD

There is a culture emerging in some business which is being termed BOYD or Bring Your Own Device.  The meaning of this term is that employees are being encouraged (or in some places required) to buy their own laptop/tablet/smartphone for use at their place of work.

Now this is an interesting and somewhat concerning change to established business culture.  While I like the idea of moving away from the homogenous presentation of computers and devices I would not ever consider spending my cash on a device that would be for work use.

I have a Smartphone, a home PC and a games console, I have no real need for a laptop and while I could probably find a personal use for a tablet (as long as it was not an iPad) I would be hard pressed to see a business value for it.

This could be accused of being ‘old guard’ thinking, digging in my heels and refusing to accept change, I would argue that is isn’t.  If a device is going to be used for the benefit of a company that I work for (and again I accept that if I was self-employed this would be become a much less important distinction) then they can pay for it frankly.

I don’t make enough money to be able to afford to splash out on all the devices I would like to and if I do they are going to be my devices and not subject to snooping by my employer.

There are a number of things that I think prevent the idea of BYOD from truly taking hold, there are:

  1. Reasonable Expectation of Privacy. If it’s my device then I have an expectation of privacy, whatever is on it is my content and other people are not going to be allowed access to it without a court order.  However if it’s a business device, I have no expectation of privacy, it is not owned by me and while the company may agree to allow me to make some use of it for personal purposes (web surfing , document storage, hobby use) it is ultimately theirs and they can at any point deny me access to it or require I return it to them.
  2. Cost & Ownership.  These devices are not cheap and if I was being expected to pay for it then I own it and the company has no rights to it, if it is part funded by the company and part by myself then how does that get resolved when we part ways?  Does one by the other out, what if neither wants to sell?
  3. Security.  Part of the reason why most businesses have a standard type of computer is that they have a standard build of operating system and applications that are installed across all machines.  This coupled with the network policies and access to passwords means that the business can control access to the device and (in the case of Blackberry and some tablets with the correct software installed) remote wipe them as needed.

Those are the top three, I’m sure I could think of many more given time.

So what is the way around this and do we even need a change?  I think we do need a change, people are becoming more and more tech-savvy and developing their own preferences of device, for example you could not pay me enough to work on a Mac and there are people out there who feel the same way about PCs.  Same goes for a phone, I would use an iPhone only under duress and if it was issued to me, I would never buy one for myself, equally I know people who never willingly use an Android device or Blackberry.

People are developing preferences and opinions relating to use of technology and are expecting these preferences to be catered for.

This need will I’m sure drive the development and adoption of new technologies to enable this, VMware for example are developing a piece of software called Horizon Mobile that allows you to have a virtual business area on your personal smartphone, one that can be secured and wiped remotely.  This is, I believe, the most likely course of future development.

As devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets become more commonly owned by employees the demand for technologies such as this will become more and more.  Being able to install and access a virtual drive or OS that has all your work related documents on board is a nice compromise, however it still requires you to be willing to give access to your device to your employer and it requires the employer to give an equal amount of trust in return.

If anyone has read Rule 34 by Charles Stross there is a good idea in there, where everyone has a personalised cloud based virtual machine that is copied down to generic tablet type devices as need, thus your business and personal personas can be maintained separately and on the same hardware.

I guess this whole thing reaches further and touches on the subject of personal privacy and separation of personal and business lives, both of which are things I have pretty strong opinions on and may write more about in the future.  In any case I think I shall leave this long and rambling post with the statement that I think the BOYD culture is going to continue to expand and while I personally would not be comfortable giving up more of my personal life to my employer I can see the bonuses of allowing your employees to choose their own devices.

For anyone interested in the article that spurred this, it can be found here on the BBC News site:

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