Left to your own devices

‘Bring your own device’ is taking hold at companies worldwide

Lindsay James
15 November 2015

5 min read

Companies around the globe are embracing the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement, in which employees are free to use their personal devices to access corporate systems. The goal is to improve access to information, facilitate greater collaboration and increase productivity. While some organizations are reaping the rewards, however, others are paying a hefty price.

Hailed by David Willis, vice president of US-based consulting firm Gartner as “the most radical change to the economics and the culture of client computing in business in decades,” the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon is being embraced by enterprises around the globe.

“Today, over 70% of global companies have a BYOD policy allowing for some access to business systems from personal devices,” Willis said. “By 2017, more employees will have access to enterprise systems through their own personal devices than the number of employees with corporate-issued devices.”

It’s easy to see why BYOD has become popular. “Allowing employees to use the tools that they’re already comfortable with can only be a good thing – they get to take the productivity that they’ve achieved in their personal lives into their business lives,” said Marcus Lane, product marketing lead for Enterprise Mobility Management at multinational computer technology company Dell. “What’s more, embracing BYOD positions a company as a flexible, go-getting business. This is important when you consider that many prospective employees today are assessing companies based on what technology they use.”

However, an online survey conducted by CompTIA, a US-based nonprofit IT trade association, found that 53% of private businesses in the US prohibit BYOD, a significant increase from the 34% that prohibited BYOD in 2013. Of 375 IT professionals surveyed, just 7% said they allowed a full BYOD policy where the company takes no responsibility for the devices.


Global steel, energy, infrastructure and services conglomerate Essar, headquartered in Mumbai, India, is on the fourth iteration of its BYOD initiative, however. “The average age of our employees is 26-30 years, and they really value the ability to use the device of their choosing,” said Jayantha Prabhu, chief technology officer at Essar, which has operations in more than 29 countries and employs more than 60,000 people.

“What’s more, because they already understand their device, they are less likely to need our technical help desk,” Prabhu added. “Users have maximum flexibility for both professional and personal computing since they are one and the same. As a company, we are benefiting from a more agile workforce. Travel, relocation and office expenses are also reduced.”

Global conglomerate Essar has found that its employees are less likely to need technical help if they BYOD to work. (Image © Essar)

Ireland’s national airline, Aer Lingus, is also experiencing success with its BYOD implementation. “Having an effective BYOD policy has transformed Aer Lingus’ business,” said Patrick Irwin, EMEA field product marketing manager at Citrix Systems, a US-based software company and an Aer Lingus provider. “The company had 4,000 members of staff who previously had to go to a terminal or office in order to access information. Now, with an effective BYOD policy, staff have secure and flexible access to information anytime, anywhere and from any device. This empowers Aer Lingus employees to deliver great customer care in all areas of the business, from baggage halls to the cockpit. Efficiency has improved as a result, with more planes taking off on time.”


Despite the growth of the BYOD phenomenon, the practice is not all smooth sailing. While the promise of lower costs is appealing to many organizations, the reality for others, according to David Schofield, partner at telecommunications management firm Network Sourcing Advisors in Atlanta, is that BYOD is more expensive in the long run.

“We’ve recently had to help a technology company with 600 workers that went US$300,000 over budget in the first year of its BYOD program,” Schofield said. “When we consider what US$300,000 represents, it is approximately US$41 per (telephone) line, per month. That is a pretty significant impact.”

Part of the problem, Schofield said, was the program the company used to help employees purchase their devices.

“The client had a stipend that was more than twice what the enterprise would have paid for a corporate-liable device,” he said. “Under a corporate agreement, the device may have been free. The enterprise had also purchased a mobile device management system which was not cost effective. Finally, the enterprise help desk went from supporting two devices on the same operating system to a large variety of operating systems and devices, each of which had their individual quirks interfacing with their organization.”

Effectively managing the security aspects of such an initiative is another pain point. According to Dell, 50% of its customers with a BYOD policy have experienced a security breach.

“Security is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges in implementing a BYOD initiative,” Lane said. “It’s important to protect corporate data to avoid a breach of security, which could have huge implications for a business with a lot of sensitive information.”

Irwin agrees. “It’s really important to have the measures in place to encrypt data,” he said. “Organizations need to be able to wipe corporate information if a device gets lost or stolen, for example.”

While security is of utmost importance, it’s also essential for businesses implementing a BYOD initiative to reassure employees that the company won’t use its connections to access personal information stored on employees’ devices. According to Gartner’s “Predicts 2014: Mobile and Wireless” report, one in five BYOD initiatives will be considered a failure by 2016 due to privacy concerns. “An intended benefit of BYOD is that employees only need to carry one device,” Schofield said. “But we’ve found that many employees continue to carry two because they are afraid that the company may not only access their personal information, but lose or delete it.”


Finding the right balance between security and flexibility is essential to success. “Security of company data and employee privacy concerns are valid issues, but these are both solvable with the right policies and tools,” Gartner’s Willis said. “The key is that the policy clearly states the rights of both employee and employer, and that the employer holds itself to the standard the policy sets. If an employee doesn’t want to conform to the policy then they should have the option to opt out, at which point the employer might choose to provide a device if it is essential to the job.”

BYOD is one practice where a few walls are well advised, Lane said. “Our approach is to implement software via a mobile app, which effectively creates a walled garden of access for company information. Employees enter a password to enter the work environment, which is controlled and managed by the enterprise. Everything outside of that is personal – the company has no access to it. Having this clear-cut division is imperative.”


Overall, Citrix’s Irwin believes there’s only one route to take when it comes to BYOD. “Look around you and see just how many employees bring their devices into work – it’s happening everywhere, in almost every company,” he said. “Companies can think they can avoid BYOD, but the fact is that they’re just putting their company at risk if they do. There’s no getting away from it – it’s imperative to today’s business environment, and those that embrace it and use it to their advantage will reap real rewards.”



In fact, Willis suggests that forward-thinking organizations will use BYOD to differentiate themselves and reach new levels of efficiency. “There’s an opportunity to add new mobile applications which can be used by all employees,” he said. “For example, collaboration tools like secure file sync and share capabilities will make groups more productive. Today, people are using their mobile devices in business far more than they ever did in the PC era. It’s just beginning.”

However, Schofield isn’t so confident. He believes organizations need to tread carefully to avoid losing money. “If the consumerization of enterprises for wireless services continues, we see a race to the bottom,” he said. “Carriers make their margins selling full-price devices upfront to subsidize lower long-term monthly charges. Should the device break, then it doubles its margins, because without a device there is no communication.” ◆

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