deviceApple’s grew its revenues by 63% and shipped 134 million iPhone and iPad in 2011, making it easily the fastest growing hardware vendor in the Enterprise market, even if it only represents a small single digit proportion of its business. It’s just one of a number of hardware suppliers arming consumers with new mobile devices – and they want to use them at work.
Accommodating mobility in business IT is not new, with most companies providing adequate wireless networking for laptop PCs within their campuses: but these connections tend to provide only the Internet and email for users of smart phones and tablets, forcing their users to bring their own multiple devices (including a PC) to run corporate applications.
The focus of corporate client refresh over the last few years has been terminal services, virtualising Windows PCs and extending IT to telephony through Unified Communications. Every year of the last 10 has been heralded as ‘the year of the virtual desktop’, with the last 2 accompanied by significant investments – but now there are big new challenges in accommodating non-PC device types. In particular:

  • Smart phones and tablets don’t have wired Ethernet ports – so many organisations need to invest in wireless networking
  • Mac OS, iOS are impossible and Android hard to virtualise, so there needs to be a movement away from virtualising PCs and towards streaming applications and ‘apps’
  • Security is a nightmare – not only are malcontents targeting new devices (yes – you can get viruses and spam on smart phones), but the mixture of home and business data on the same device creates significant new vulnerabilities

A number of years’ ago there was a move towards more freedom of selection for users, with vendors suggesting that employees could be given a PC allowance akin to a ‘car allowance’ – although views differed on whether purchases should be from an approved list or not. Most PC suppliers today are hedging their bets by adding tablets and smart phones to accommodate the changes in device purchasing. But strong adoption of BYOD strategies will shift purchasing authority from company to user, so business suppliers are also hurriedly adding ‘coolness’ as an essential design feature.
The challenges of BYOD are between freedom and control. Users don’t want their home devices clogged up with their company’s data – still less enjoy having their personal data swiped by their IT department when they leave. IT managers have to deal with a mass of new expectations, measured by the need to exert some control to keep corporate data safe and confidential. It is logical that companies will need to pay something to employees for the renting of the space on their devices and perhaps they will need to be more democratic this time – only paying for the technology of senior managers looks inappropriate as a BYOD strategy.
As more companies say ‘bring your own device’ I hear users reply, ‘then loosen up your network!’ and there are many cultural, technical and financial consequences to consider.

Image Credit: Martin Hingley

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