BYOD, and why I think it’s a bad idea.

Loads of companies, mine included, have been trending towards BYOD as a formal IT policy. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means “bring your own device”. With the rise of assorted smartphones, plenty of people are starting to prefer choosing their own mobile device (phone or tablet or whatever) and using it for office purposes. And that, on its surface, is fine. 

But as I said, this is becoming a formal policy. Companies want to stop running expensive Blackberry Enterprise Servers and stop issuing devices. This presents a problem for companies with confidential data that may be on an employee’s device. How do you deal with it? There are several businesses running mobile device management systems that will let IT departments have a sort of “remote wipe” access to a phone, so that if the person leaves the company, the company can be sure that data hasn’t gone missing.

Speaking as someone in IT, I think the trend is a bad idea, in spite of a huge amount of enthusiasm about it (even from my colleagues). Here’s why.

1- Companies aren’t really saving money. The cost of the aforementioned BES isn’t really saved, because you have to pay for your MDM provider. On top of that, companies are expected to cover some of the cost of the user’s monthly bill. But the rest of the savings are eaten by issue #2.

2- Good luck supporting that shit. A company’s mobile support teams now need to be able to provide assistance for a huge number of devices with a huge number of customizations. Where Blackberries could be pretty standardized (and even managed remotely with the BES to an extent), now not only is the help desk handling different OSs like Android or IOS or Windows Mobile, they’re handling them on a cornucopia of different devices with different inbuilt applications by the manufacturer, and with dozens of versions, too. This problem is multiplied tenfold by issue #3.

3- I root my shit. I’m aware this invalidates my warranty and limits the support of it to myself, but what if someone bricks their phone and is incommunicado until they can fix/replace it? The whole mobile plan is suddenly dependent on all the employees not to fuck with this neato new toy (and it’s not like just rooting will kill it, there are loads of ways for it to die). The company suddenly can’t reach them for a while at best, but on top of that they can’t do their work remotely. And that’s assuming they SHOULD be doing their work remotely at a given point in time, as with issue 4.

4- How the fuck do I switch off? I have my work phone, and my personal phone, and I keep them very separate. If I go on vacation, I need my personal phone, and I don’t want my work phone bothering me. Except if they’re both the same device, you can’t do that. The email will always be right there to check it. The help desk that doesn’t realize you’re out can still call if they have your mobile number. This actually came up accidentally over my last vacation: my work address and my personal address are the same before the @, and someone accidentally (one of those habitual things) used when typing an email to me. It came to my personal phone, and so work got through to me anyway. If I’d given in to the BYOD situation, it would have been flooded with work email. Further, in the past I didn’t have a company issued phone and I frequently DID get calls from tech support while I’m out, sometimes several a day. I don’t want to start filtering calls all the time. Though perhaps that would be a good use of a Google Voice account.

These are my own concerns, of course. There’s a lot more to the situation, and many of the younger generation of workers are eager to use their own devices rather than shitty office Blackberries. In a way I can see why. But pundits are starting to cry that BYOD is already on its way out again, now that businesses are starting to see the real costs of it all.

I don’t know. I do think it’s started as a fad, or ends up taking root in many companies because executive management decides they want to use their expensive iPhones for work. Whether or not it will die soon, I can’t say.