Why BYOD remains a work in progress and faces a number of growing pains

April 27, 2014

The concept of 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 that 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.

A few basics first. The survey upon which this study was based was fielded just a few 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. (You'll find specific tablet-related results near the end of this article).

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.

(Chart © 2014, TECHnalysis Research, LLC)

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.

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.”

(Making tablets more productive and how to securely manage them will be among the key sessions at the Tablet Strategy conference in New York on May 6, 2014. You may be eligible for a free pass if you qualify as a Tablet/Mobile Manager. If you don't qualify, there are still a few tickets available at $175 each, breakfast and lunch included. Check conditions and register on the registration page.)

After initial BYOD hype, pendulum swings back

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.

Another challenge is the manner in which IT is approaching the task of managing devices used for BYOD. 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 IT Decision Makers (ITDMs) expressed throughout this research.

Most employees love BYOD

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.

Tablets driving BYOD, especially iPad

Looking specifically at tablets, there are number of interesting data points from the survey worth noting. First, approximately 39% of IT decision maker respondents said their employees used tablets at work, with an equal percentage being work-purchased devices and personally purchased devices.

(Interestingly, the numbers from employees themselves were lower at 27% who said they worked on a personally-purchased tablet and 16% who said they did at least some work on a work-purchased tablet.)

On both work and personally-purchased tablets, iPads were the top choice with just over half (51%) of tablet user respondents saying their tablet was based on iOS. Android was second for both, but on work-purchased tablets, Windows was actually a close third, with a particularly strong showing among larger businesses. This isn’t terribly surprising as many large businesses are comfortable with Microsoft OS-based devices and have their infrastructure and applications built around them.

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.


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