BYOD: is it worth it?

17 June 2020


No doubt you have heard that “the traditional workplace is quickly becoming a thing of the past”, or words to that effect, more times than you care to mention.

It’s a hackneyed and trite expression that became everyday language when people first started working remotely, courtesy of Wi-Fi, dongles and other necessary technology. 

However, that generally relates to where we carry out our daily job functions, not how. By that I mean the equipment we use to ply our trade.

According to Wikipedia, the initialism that is BYOD (bring your own device, a play on bring your own booze) entered common parlance in 2009 courtesy of Intel, when it clocked “an increasing tendency among its employees to bring their own smartphones, tablets and laptop computers to work and connect them to the corporate network”.

Well, even if you aren’t au fait with the concept, the chances are you’re doing it anyway.  Think about it - once you leave the office – remember that time? – you scan and respond to work emails as you fight to get a seat on the train or find some other way to successfully navigate standing next to someone’s odious armpit. However, that’s more out of necessity as we don’t all take office equipment home to carry on working, because it upsets the work/life balance.

So, why would an employee use their own equipment when they can use someone else’s?

Now, imagine you don’t need to use work equipment at all and everything you need to do your job and organise your social life is doable via one or two devices – your own.

First of all, there’s convenience. Employees can carry one phone in their pockets and don’t have to worry about taking care of two devices at the same time.

Then there is efficiency - employees have no learning curve for new equipment because they already understand how to use their own electronic devices. Instead, they can jump in on day one for immediate productivity.

Or it might be down to pure preference. If Peter likes iPhones and Sally likes Androids, both can happily use their preferred device they don’t have to learn how to use new ones. For Will Liu, managing director at TP-Link UK says for organisations, a BYOD policy means that employees are able to use the devices they are most comfortable with to best achieve their job to the highest levels. “Devices like phones are a very personal choice and as the line between home and work life blurs with the mass adoption of instant messaging apps, this one device in particular spans both realms,” adds Liu. “BYOD also enables employees to be more flexible about where and when they work.”

He adds that as SaaS continues to grow in importance, cloud applications like Google Docs, Microsoft 365 and Box enable employees to make extremely good use of the time between meetings or even travelling on public transport.

Then, of course, there’s the C-word. It can be a huge expense for any company to update equipment, but employees are often more motivated to pay to replace their personal phone or laptop with the latest available device.

“From operation costs to better technology, BYOD has a number of benefits for companies,” says Paul Fisher, technical consultant at cross-platform solutions specialist Parallels. “A few examples of where cost savings can be found include hardware (these costs, all or partially are transferred to the employee). Also, IT departments have less training and support to provide as employees are familiar with their own devices. As an example, Forbes magazine suggested that a company with 500 employees could result in over $1.5m in savings per year.”

Savings are one thing, but there are still other issues to overcome, such as complex IT support and overall compatibility.

Anyone who uses a computer and is a company employee will know how key the relationship is with IT departments. The more political and sycophantic office worker will flatter their IT staff in order to get help first when things go wrong. However, IT managers need to keep a close eye on employees and the devices they bring in to work in order to make sure the business is protected and that the employee isn’t violating any compliance issues. How does that work, then?

Ken Galvin, senior product manager at software company Quest, says the process of setting up these devices to work in a corporate environment can put far too much pressure on IT teams, where their time is better utilised for digital transformation and more important IT projects. “From a device management perspective, with BYOD it can also be difficult to track access, have full visibility over the network, and maintain compliance and data integrity – all of which can lead to substantial longer-term challenges,” he continues. “For all parts of the business to benefit from BYOD, IT teams need to be investing in proper mobile device management and making it as easy as possible for individuals to set up their own devices securely through self-service portals. This means that the company’s IT is kept running efficiently and already-stretched IT administrators can focus on innovative projects.”

For Fisher, “one of the big advantages of BYOD” is that support and administration can be reduced.  “This is because there is very little management, if any, required of the user-devices as they do not belong to the organisation and because all the desktops are not centrally contained in the datacentre management of these, making things considerably easier,” he continues. “With a remote application server-delivery BYOD solution, like Parallels RAS,  template management means you only need to update the OS and applications in one place.”

Will Liu, managing director, TP-Link UK

Will Liu, managing director, TP-Link UK

As far as Liu is concerned, “ yes, version control can be an issue” where employees are using their own devices. “Ensuring that all devices have the latest versions of operating systems and software updates are deployed in a timely manner are important for the overall security of your network.”

Fisher adds that BYOD solutions will have clients available for all the major operating systems that the devices will run. “If you use remote application delivery and VDI as your BYOD solution, users can connect from any device that has an internet browser, so yes that includes devices such as Microsoft Xboxes,” he says.

There are other pluses, according to Thorsten Kurpjuhn, European market development manager at Zyxel. “Employee devices are typically newer than corporate devices, meaning that they are often more compatible with cutting-edge systems,” he says.

Indeed, Kurpjuhn opines that as employees increasingly desire more flexible work arrangements, forward-thinking businesses must embrace technology to maintain and drive employee engagement and satisfaction. “For example, bring your own device (BYOD) policies suit both personal and business needs,” he says. “BYOD is a growing trend within the workplace – instead of working on a company-owned computer in the office, an employee can use their personal devices, such as a laptop, tablet or smartphone. While BYOD is mainly used for remote working, personal devices are slowly replacing equipment in the company’s traditional offices and improving employee experience. According to a recent Trend Micro survey, 80% of companies saw an increase in worker productivity with the implementation of BYOD programs.”

It’s a growing market for sure and Fisher points to a report by Forbes which highlights just how big BYOD is now. It found that The BYOD market is on course to hit almost $367bn by 2022, up from just $30bn in 2014 (BetaNews).

What’s more, a study conducted by computer giant Dell found that 61% of Gen Y and 50% of 30+ workers believe the tech tools they use in their personal lives are more effective and productive than those used in their work life. It also reported that 60% use a smartphone for work purposes while 31% desire one. Other reports pertaining to the subject matter found that companies favouring BYOD make an annual saving of $350 per year, per employee (Cisco).

In addition, using portable devices for work tasks saves employees 58 minutes per day while increasing productivity by 34% (Frost & Sullivan).

However, like most things, there are cons and BYOD appears to be no different. The security aspect is a given and has been covered to death, but Fisher says there are other negatives both employer and employee need to consider. 

“Whilst the benefits of BYOD are strong, organisations must be aware of the risk BYOD places on a company’s infrastructure,” he adds. “As a result of implementing a BYOD policy, organisations will have a more complex system with a range of devices working a range of operating systems…therefore, it is vital that companies are cautious in the approach to implementing a BYOD strategy.

Then there’s issue of what happens to the data. Not stolen or hacked data per se, but after a contract has been terminated or when an employee leaves the company, it may be necessary to remove the company’s private information from the employee’s device, which could prove to be difficult. A plan should be in place to prevent the potential misuse of information.

Now, it’s back to cost, but from another angle – wear and tear and who pays for it. 

“BOYD is about giving employees the choice,” says Fisher. “Some employees would much rather use their own device, perhaps because they are Mac users, whereas others may not even have their own device and therefore need to be issued with a corporate device.  Other companies offer a contribution towards the device which still reduces company costs and gives the employee their preferred device, everyone is happy. The onus on repairing would really be down to the individual company and their policy or terms and conditions.  This might also depend on the arrangement if it’s truly the employee’s own device in use or if there has been any employer contribution.”

An enterprise will be delighted to not have to fork out for new IT kit where it can avoid it, but would not like having to foot the bill for repairs or an upgrade to a device worth far more than they already have in stock

An enterprise will be delighted to not have to fork out for new IT kit where it can avoid it, but would not like having to foot the bill for repairs or an upgrade to a device worth far more than they already have in stock

Liu argues: “On the downside (for employees), when they start using their own devices in the workplace they are responsible for their own upkeep and maintenance.”  Does TP-Link have a BYOD policy in place?

“At TP-Link, we’ve taken the view that the business will provide employees with the tools they need to do their job, if they have any additional needs the business will provide the equipment for any  reasonable adjustments that might be required,” says Liu. “As an organisation we would prefer to take care of the equipment that enables our teams to do their jobs without the distraction of having to specify and choose their own equipment. It also enables our technical support team to solve issues faster as the whole business is standardised on the same platforms.”

What about Parallels? “We have a lot of remote workers and while we do have corporate issued devices we are able to use our own devices when we wish,” says Fisher.

For Kurpjuhn, a clear set of rules, guidelines and policies for BYOD must be in place to ensure responsible use within the workplace. He says a BYOD policy should include a list of permitted devices, protocols, information on password protection and secure connection methods, liability terms and a section which incorporates violation of policy. “It’s also important to outline the security tools, such as antivirus software, which an employee must have installed on their devices,” he adds. “ There are a number of simple steps that these organisations can take/or ask employees to carry out to reduce the cyber risks associated with remote connectivity.”

He said they include conducting an IT audit before enacting BYOD to consider new risks and concerns that personal devices would pose to the corporate systems, implementing BYOD policies and identifying personal devices accessing the network for reference.

Kurpjuhn highlights other key requirements, too. “Limit each employee’s access to the network to be possible only from a set of approved devices, install mobile device management technology, require two-factor authentication for mobile access, require immediate notification from employees for lost or stolen devices and use device locator and remote wiping services,” he says.

Still, the BYOD model has already had a positive impact on the workplace, says Kurpjuhn, who cites Cisco as having reported 69% of IT decision-makers favour BYOD as a positive addition to any workplace policy because it saves workers time.

There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to BYOD. An employee will most likely be happier using his or her own hi-tech equipment, but will be equally unhappy with a repair bill. An enterprise will be delighted to not have to fork out for new IT kit where it can avoid it, but would not like having to foot the bill for repairs or an upgrade to a device worth far more than they already have in stock.

With that in mind, it’s wise not to make the decision based purely on the convenience and cost factors. Think about how a BYOD policy will have an impact on your business and think about what your employees want. Look to the future and make decisions about how to handle the devices when an employee leaves your organisation.

Nevertheless, it seems more likely that companies will commission Bring Your Own Device programs to augment, rather than overhaul, their traditional way of working. The best of both worlds, in other words, will be the order of the day.

The truth is, BYOD will always divide opinion. While some employees would prefer to separate their work and private lives entirely, and are repelled by the notion of using a personal device in the office, others warmly embrace the removal of such barriers.