Some thoughts on BYOD (part one of two): why does all this matter?

Bring your own device seems to crop up everywhere these days, and I’ve been struck by the wide range of attitudes and approaches to this trend. For some BYOD seems to be an unmanageable threat which has to be resisted at all costs, to others it’s a distraction from the core job of delivering IT to the business. And then there are others who are evangelising BYOD as a new IT nirvana.

So, the question I keep asking myself is how do we go about sifting the wheat from the chaff, how do we figure out what role (if any) personal devices have within the work environment, and how we can use the undoubted potential presented by the explosion in personal and mobile computing power to deliver big results for our organisations?

There are a few key reasons why in my view, BYOD (and the wider ‘consumerisation of IT’ in general) is something which has to be taken seriously:

  • the days when corporate IT could afford to provide the best IT tools are long gone: consumer devices are now changing at a phenomenal rate, with a refresh cycle of 1–2 years which very few IT organisations can afford to match. And even if we could, the ‘best practice’ model of standardised business devices will inevitably alienate a significant proportion of the workforce who prefer a different platform (the battle rages across my team between the iOS obsessives and the Android fanatics, and I’m sure it will get even more confusing if Windows RT is a success).
  • many people don’t actually want to carry separate devices around with them: and while there are still some traditionalists who want to maintain completely separate work and personal lives, there are more and more people who would relish the ability to work more flexibly but who don’t want yet another device to lug around (even if we could afford to provide it to them — which often we can’t!).
  • delivering our services is increasingly involving collaboration with a wider range of people than ever before: and in many cases it will be hard to persuade someone to contribute their time to help us provide services to the community if we then force them to use our systems in a way that they find inconvenient.
  • the way people consume IT in general is changing beyond recognition: with more and more ‘cloud’ services which let users bring their own app, meaning that they can use whatever device they like anyway!

Given all this, it seems to me that the role of IT is increasingly becoming one where we need to focus less and less on devices, and more and more on information — helping to free our users to make their own choices about the way they connect to systems, and using our energies to protect the information which matters and equally importantly help our users to work and collaborate as productively as possible.

In my next post I’ll try to set out some of the steps which I think will be important to successfully moving from the traditional IT role of supply and control, to a new way of operating where we are enabling the organisation to work more flexibly and productively than ever before.