The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) in a recent interview said it would not allow employees to bring their own devices onto work networks as it “does not like to be at the bleeding edge [of technology].”
Other companies may share that same sort of luddite sentiment to varying degrees, although they likely would be a little less blunt in their mea culpas regarding bring your own device (BYOD) policy. But if companies are truly shying away from BYOD for fear of adopting an unproven technology, they may face image damage -- an unfortunate side effect of making a rational choice for irrational reasons.
From a critic’s perspective, BYOD is a form of creeping contagion that seems to have infected the global workforce. The critic will assert the downsides of BYOD are many. IT overhead often increases. Licensing expenses may rise. Privacy is cut. Liability grows. Productivity is lost as employees engage in recreational computing.
These days, though, a trip around the Internet would leave you believing that BYOD optimists have almost driven out the critics. BYOD buzz seems the enterprise world equivalent of Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” overplayed and popping up in everything from analyst conversations to consumer news. BYOD optimists argue that organizations can mitigate most downsides with proper management.
I will say there’s a fair amount of truth to the optimist’s counter-argument. But I feel that, at the end of the day, when you let employees conduct sensitive business on unmanaged devices, you risk your company’s security, financial future, and reputation; conversely, if you manage personal devices you can never fully mitigate the risk of your IT employees abusing their power and accessing personal information. Of course, the former scenario could occur if an employee conducted business on his personal device without permission, while the latter could happen if employees bring their personal lives onto work devices. But in those cases it’s the employees' fault; in cases where BYOD goes wrong, it’s often the employer who shoulders the blame.
I’m a proponent of keeping my digital work and digital personal lives separate, and I think anyone who really stops to mull over the importance of digital privacy would do the same. I would consider privacy one fundamental, valid reason for rejecting BYOD (and as an employee for not wanting BYOD).
Aside from those issues, another perfectly legitimate reason to opt out of BYOD is if it presents a conflict of interest. This is true for most OEMs. Say your firm makes laptops. Well, you certainly don’t want employees bringing rivals' laptops onto your campus. It would hurt your image, damage employee morale, and fundamentally send the wrong message.
A similar principle can apply, only to a lesser extent, to exclusive contractors or clients of a particular OEM. Sure, an iOS development house could allow employees to carry in Androids, but is that conducive to the culture if you really want your business to be iOS exclusive?
Interestingly, there are more BYOD holdouts than you might think. An IDC Canada poll found that nearly one-third (31 percent) of businesses don’t allow BYOD at all. A Kapersky Labs-sponsored B2B poll saw half of the respondents rejecting the trend. Clearly not everyone has signed on to the BYOD train, even if the hype does make some weary holdouts feel like it’s inevitable -- and say as much in surveys.
Given the downsides, I expect some companies to eventually turn their backs on BYOD, but interestingly I could not find an example of a company that admitted to doing so (although I did find a guide to how it might be done). One key obstacle to ditching BYOD is the current hype. With many oblivious to the downsides, bucking BYOD would likely breed employee resentment. But as the hype subsides, employees will likely grow less fixated on BYOD. At that point some companies may make this uncharted transition back to company-owned devices.
As for companies that never go there in the first place, it’s important to establish a clear logical justification for your beliefs. I’ve listed some of the potentially valid reasons not to just give in to the hype. Come up with a clear explanation of why your company policy is to not allow BYOD and make sure your public relations team and managers can reiterate that same explanation.
— Jason Mick is senior news editor at the independent tech news site DailyTech.