BYOD: Still a Work in Progress

on April 22, 2014

The concept of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), where individuals purchase and bring device(s) of their choosing into the workplace and use them alongside or in place of company purchased assets, has been around long enough it’s easy to think it’s readily established and well understood. But a recently completed survey of just over 750 US-based employees and IT decision makers by my firm, TECHnalysis Research, suggests otherwise. The results paint a relatively complex portrait of the current reality–while BYOD is strong and on the rise in many ways, it’s also facing a number of growing pains that clearly illustrate challenges both now and in the future.

A few basics first. The survey upon which this study was based was fielded two weeks ago among 452 employees and 302 IT workers evenly split among small companies (10-99 employees), medium-sized companies (100-999 employees) and large companies (1,000+ employees) spread across a wide range of industries. The initial sample pool was much larger however, and results from that group of 2,814 individuals show just barely under half (49.5%) of the respondents said their company had some type of BYOD policy in place.

BYOD Policy Chart

© 2014, TECHnalysis Research, LLC

Depending on your perspective, that’s a classic glass half empty/half full dichotomy. It shows both a huge opportunity for vendors eager to create solutions that help companies enable BYOD as well as the fact that despite years and years of efforts, only half of US-based companies have started to address the interest. Of course, the BYOD adoption numbers could be a bit higher as nearly 12% of respondents (most likely employees) didn’t know whether their company even had a policy. While that might seem odd, throughout the survey results there was a clear and noticeable gap in understanding between IT decision makers and employees on the topic of BYOD. In fact, one of the key takeaways from the report is IT needs to do a significantly better job at communicating their company’s BYOD policy and the specific elements that are or are not included in it.

Of those with any kind of BYOD culture, approximately 40% said their companies had a formal policy, while the remaining 60% said they only had an informal policy. This suggests that, in most cases, IT is simply reacting to the reality of employees bringing their own devices into work rather than proactively tackling the challenge. Part of this may be due to the sophistication, or lack thereof, of the tools IT has at its disposal for implementing BYOD programs, as well as the complexity of the problem, but it strongly implies BYOD continues to go through a maturation process.[pullquote]20% of all IT decision-maker respondents with BYOD programs and 29% of the medium-sized business group said they have started to pull back a bit from their earliest efforts.”[/pullquote]

Even more telling is 20% of all IT decision-maker respondents with BYOD programs and 29% of the medium-sized business group said they have started to pull back a bit from their earliest efforts. As with many tech industry phenomena, the pendulum often starts to swing back after the initial hype around a topic has begun to fade. These numbers clearly show there are some serious concerns IT departments have had to face after the sometimes “Wild West-like” atmosphere of early BYOD deployments–where a level of “digital lawlessness” took hold. Balancing data security and freedom—which is essentially the key problem for BYOD—is an ongoing challenge ITDMs, and the vendors supporting them, will need to keep revisiting on a regular basis.

BYOD Involvement Chart

© 2014, TECHnalysis Research, LLC

Another challenge is the manner in which IT is approaching the task of managing devices used for BYOD. As discussed in last week’s column (“The Mobility Myth”), the devices used by employees in today’s business environment is a much more conservative mix than many might suppose. In fact, the PC is still king in business. Because of that, IT’s approach to BYOD often reflects a more conservative perspective. Many companies are focused on trying to manage smartphones and tablets as if they were PCs, which is likely contributing to some of the challenges and concerns that ITDMs expressed throughout this research.

On the other hand, most employees are clearly (and perhaps not surprisingly) enthusiastic about BYOD, although with some reservations. Only 8% of employee respondents in companies with BYOD programs said they do not participate in them. A majority of the remaining 92% who do participate enjoy the freedom and flexibility these programs provide, but a reasonable 13% of respondents (17% in large companies) expressed concerns around potential invasions of privacy from BYOD policies and 22% said their program was just OK.

There’s no question that BYOD is an important, ongoing trend that will continue to influence how our workplace environments evolve. But there’s also no question BYOD is far from mature and still in need of work and evolution—a potentially lucrative opportunity for companies ready to take on the challenge.