Bring your own device (BYOD) is already a reality. Ninety five per cent of the 600 IT and business leaders in the US surveyed for the latest Cisco IBSG Horizons Study indicated their organisations permitted employee-owned devices in the workplace.
The study found that 84 per cent of the organisations surveyed also provided support for employee-owned devices. And while the first reaction of some CIOs to the growth of BYOD might be to reach for the aspirin after a sleepless night haunted by dreams of data loss, the survey found that the overwhelming majority of IT managers considered BYOD to be somewhat or extremely positive for the business.
In some ways it's not a new challenge. Organisations have had to grapple for quite some time with employees wanting to use their own notebooks in the workplace. What's new, however, is the growth in devices equipped with cellular modems for anywhere access, the increased power of smartphones — both in terms of hardware capabilities and in terms of potential as a productivity tool — and the creation of a growing market for tablet devices since the release of Apple's iPad.
"Over the past few years the proliferation of different devices has really taken off," says Telstye senior analyst Rodney Gedda. "There has been exponential growth in the power, the software and mobile networks. Apple changed the perception of what people expected from a mobile device and then android came onto the scene. You have a number of vendors that are pushing the limit of what's possible in a mobile phone — you've got quad core processors, you've got large screens — these are the sorts of forces that [exist] whether companies decide to let their staff bring their own devices to work or not."
Even in the case of a fleet of company-provided device, you're not going to stop people bringing their second device in their other pocket, says Gedda.
The rise of BYOD can reveal a gap in some companies' policies. Many companies already equip their employees with mobile devices, such as notebooks, tablets or phones. These devices will almost always be government by a usage policy that an employee will sign off on, with the threat of disciplinary action for misusing the device. However, it's not possible to just strike out "company-provided device" in the agreement in order to tailor it to employee-owned devices.
People love their smartphones and tablets; not just as phones and email devices, but for entertainment, personal organisation, photography and social networking. An approach that just treats a BYO device as another company device, just one purchased by an employee, won't work.
A BYOD policy for users needs to cover many of the areas covered by 'traditional' mobile device user agreements, but needs to take into account users' interests as well.
Making it readable
Acceptable use policies for IT, including for mobile devices, can tend to end up taking up hefty stack of paper. An employee will no doubt sign it, but in many cases they're unlikely to read it. A page that sets out clearly in summary form what a user's responsibilities are, as well as what rights an organisation is giving them, is much more likely to be read. Denis O’Shea, CEO of mobile device management company Mobile Mentor, says that the best approach is to have a system where an employee initials each point of the summary or marks a checkbox.
"Behind that you might have 18 pages of definitions and explanations and all that, but it's got to be light enough that your average employee will actually look at this and say 'Oh yeah, I get it. No worries,'" he says.