Q. What is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and why is it so controversial?
A. Remember the days when you started a new job and you were directed to a cubicle that contained a dusty desktop computer with a huge CRT monitor? Gone are those days! Today's computing environment is so complex and fluid. Many in the workforce utilize smartphones and tablets to access company emails and programs. People can work from home or access company programs without regards to their physical location. How did this get so easy?
When company computing systems were based on client/server technology, much of the software that ran corporate networks was installed locally on high-powered servers. A Virtual Private Network was required to allow access to anyone who needed to get in to perform work when away from the office. As cloud-based system became more popular, important data was accessible from anywhere without fancy programming or access programs. That means travelers could access CRM systems, accounting and finance data, download files and collaborate with co-workers by accessing the company portal on the internet. Laptops became all the rage.
Then...along came Apple with the iPad. A very portable laptop suddenly seemed like a boat anchor in comparison to this tablet device. Android powered versions soon evolved to be a major force as well. Smartphones, which are really small tablets that make phone calls, could be the only thing a traveling employee needed to stay connected at the office.
BYOD begins when employees start making the decision of which device they will use to accomplish their work. It provides flexibility for the employee to work in a computing environment that they are most comfortable with. That could mean iOS, Android, OSX, Windows, Linux etc. Employees get to choose the device and are given a stipend to purchase that device with some guidance on the types of devices that will work best. Employees then own the computer and can do whatever they wish with that device.
IT departments hate this concept however. No longer can they standardize on a particular type of equipment or operating system. That means support is very difficult. What if a user has trouble accessing files or their computer starts to malfunction. What if a user's machine is infected with a virus at home and then they bring that machine to work and infect everyone around them? What if the corporate computing environment does not support the operating system the employee chooses? What if the operating system on a user's tablet is not robust enough due to portability and storage constraints? All of these possible scenarios are enough to cause headaches and hairballs in IT departments.
So, what does a company do? If you develop strict policies about the use of external devices on the internal network and educate your employees on those policies, you are more apt to miss the experience of the spreading virus. By providing some simple, minimum requirements to your employees on what does and does not work on your network, you can alleviate compatibility issues as well. As for the multitude of unique devices, only flexibility and patience from your IT folks will alleviate this concern.