BYOD brings concerns, but there can be rewards too. (Getty Images/Comstock Images)
Ask technology managers about bring-your-own-device programs and they will likely share tales of woe. Personal devices on enterprise networks can bring a list of challenges, including supporting various operating systems and securing devices and data.
“Everything ends up becoming doom and gloom, and they lose site of the benefits,” said Theresa Grafenstine, inspector general of the U.S. House of Representatives and an international vice president of the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA).
The benefits? Productivity, efficiency, cost savings. Played right, IT can turn BYOD from a pain in the neck into a legitimate business asset.
It’s an effort worth pursuing, as BYOD becomes an inevitability in the government workplace. More than half of U.S. workers already use personal devices to store and work on enterprise content. While personal devices make up just 5 percent of the government market, that figure will grow at double-digit rates for the next three years, IDC predicts.
BYOD is supposed to save money, but many IT professionals say it costs them more to support multiple devices than it would to run a single, enterprisewide mobility program. It’s doesn’t have to be that way, said Rick Holgate, CIO of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and president of the American Council for Technology.
One way to reap cost benefits is to encourage visitors from other agencies to bring their own devices with them. An agency spends money every time it issues a fresh set of mobile tools to people on temporary additional duty – money that could be saved if people would tote their own devices.
“Is it really necessary to issue new devices? Probably not,” Holgate said. “They have this equipment that is already paid for, so it is not cost effective to give them an entire second set of equipment.” Here, BYOD saves money.
When it comes to productivity, simplicity is a vital element in reaping promised rewards.
“When you implement your plans from a security perspective, you don’t want to hinder the use case based on the nature of device,” said Scott Armstrong, is the Chief Strategy Officer with mobile app vendor INADEV.
IT has to balance security against usability: Productivity plummets if devices are too hard to use. “That means it should be seamless to the end consumer,” he said. “They should just be able to click on their email and go in and use it. If it takes five minutes to launch the email, if there are multiple procedures, then you don’t get that efficiency. Security should not inhibit from you getting your work done.”
Productivity depends, too, on treating BYOD as more than just a collection of helpful apps. Rather than just an email interface or a calendar, BYOD generates productivity when it serves as a full-fledged business element of the enterprise.
“As the user, what I really want is to get my question answered. So it becomes a matter of how I can deliver that data, the absolute right answer, in the right moment in time. You don’t mobilize apps. You mobilize transactions,” said Bryan Coapstick, HP’s director of mobile innovation for the U.S. Public Sector.
So for instance a travel expense function ought to integrate seamlessly with an expense management tool. “I’m not managing it as silos, but rather as an integrated framework,” he said.
Cost savings comes with commitment. It’s impossible to realize the fiscal rewards of BYOD if IT does not first accept the notion that its long-standing enterprise tools are about to undergo a fundamental change.
Server configuration, infrastructure, the people to run it all: “You really can save money, but you have to get rid of all that back end stuff,” Grafenstine said. “The agency would have to go through the conscious decision making to completely divest themselves of this. You cannot keep all your IT toys and still want to do this new buzzword technology. Either fully embrace it, or don’t do it.”
Finally, saving money means knowing when to say no, said Shawn McCarthy, research director for IDC Government Insights. Workers may clamor for Androids and iThings ad infinitum, but too big a pool will drain resources. “Giving access to every type of device, to every application across the enterprise, at a certain point there is no real return on that. You have to draw the line somewhere,” he said.