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BYOD strategies not one size fits all, say mobility management experts

“We’ve seen customers that have gone down the BYOD strategy then have turned round and come right back again,” crackled the voice of Richard Neale from the smartphone laying on the boardroom desk. “It was never going to be the Utopia with unicorns jumping over rainbows that they thought it was going to be.”

As the CTO of mobility management firm Esselar, he and Neil Cohen, the vice president of marketing at Visage Mobile, know what mythological creatures could be cavorting down the BYOD path, stumbling on pitfalls along the way. BYOD has been the acronym on everyone’s lips of late, with many UK firms toying with the idea of rolling out bring your own device programmes as part of their business model. It became clear throughout the course of our chat, however, that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow may require a more calculated mission to claim than previously thought.

According to Cohen, in the world of BYOD there is no one size fits all. “Is BYOD cost efficient?” he hypothesised, “That’s for each organisation to decide. There are a lot of hidden costs that go into BYOD.”

He highlighted potential costs as including managing the process of reimbursing employees for device expenditure, for example, or what he termed 'leakage', the fact that most BYOD budgets are rarely stuck to. As he put it, “there’s never a Goldilocks moment where it’s exactly right. It’s either more, or it’s less. If [your budget’s] less, how long do you think an employee’s going to carry on saying ‘Ah, I’m going to keep using my phone for the company and pay for it out of my pocket.’

“I’m not trying to say that BYOD is a bad strategy,” he continued, “I’m just trying to say that there are lots of hidden costs that people don’t factor in to it.”

So the fact that the costs of BYOD are relevant to each organisation means that many firms have been experimenting with alternatives to bring your own device that still sit in the same vein. “Many people are starting to turn to what they’re calling CYOD”, said Neale, “which is where the company says ‘If it’s Samsung or Android we’ll support it, anything else, we won’t because we haven’t got the tools knowledge or resources to do so.'”

A second strategy that has surfaced is COPE - 'Corporately Owned but Personally Enabled Device’ - which is where companies buy devices outright, put them on their systems, then give them to users and tell them to use the device as if it were their own. Both these strategies keep the majority of control with the employer, making employees abusing usage rights less likely, but they do raise the issue that by purchasing devices, businesses aren’t really saving much money upfront. It’s why Neale believes that “approaching these mobility schemes with the idea of ‘I want to save a load of money’ is a very dangerous place to start because it’s going to unravel and people are going to come unstuck quickly.”

Instead, Cohen’s experience of implementing BYOD in the US has taught him that establishing an overall objective is a good place to start when introducing a mobility programme. “What are you trying to accomplish?” he asked. “Are you trying to be more competitive and make your employees more productive? Or is there a cost of doing business and you just want to reduce that cost? Once you know your objectives, start with policy. You have to set the rules of the game: who pays for what and how you do it and how it’s managed and what the budgets are; what people do in the case of lost or stolen devices; what devices do different departments in your business get? Who pays for what and how do they pay for them?”

It’s a long to-do list but one that Cohen and Neale both believe can ultimately be worthwhile. “I think any change is a risk,” said Neale. “It’s just a case of getting as close to the risk as you possibly can and understanding the pros and cons of implementing that change.”

Cohen agreed, chiming in that “the risk is actually not introducing BYOD. It’s about finding the right mix: yes, it’s early on, but the companies that experiment early will spend more money experimenting and finding the right route, but they’ll get the job done sooner than their rivals.”

A big positive of BYOD is the effect on productivity, something that Neale believes is boosted exponentially by employees having constant access to a work-based device:

“A friend of mine is a very IT illiterate lawyer, yet he’s still constantly checking his emails on his iPad while his BlackBerry is at work in his desk drawer which he never touches. Before he had his iPad, any emails that he got outside of his hours of nine to five he wouldn’t be reading. He now reads his corporate email any time of day or night, literally. When his latest daughter was born, he’d be up feeding her at three in the morning and responding to emails. It is quite ridiculous. But there is definitely a feel of if people are allowed to use their shiny tablet for work purposes as well as their personal devices, they will just do it naturally.”

The fact that 90 per cent of users with smartphones keep them within arm’s reach 100 per cent of the time surely has something to do with this. Many people will now link their work email accounts with their mobile email apps, meaning that they get constant updates from work 24/7 whether they’re at their desk or curled up on the sofa watching TV.

“People are working an extra 44 days a year with their mobile devices than they would have otherwise,” said Cohen. “Checking your emails becomes the first thing you do in the day and the last thing you do at night. Other than that you need professional help!”

Joking aside, it seems clear that people are more productive with a smart device enabled with corporate data than they are without. The BYOD business is still at a very early stage, but Neale and Cohen have made clear that if you research your options thoroughly and identify which groups of employees need bring your own device models (whether that’s BYOD, CYOD or COPE strategies), you are better prepared to manage unexpected costs than those who plunge in head-first without a clear idea of strategy.

For more, see our beginners guide to BYOD and a summary of how SMEs can overcome the key risks associated with bring your own device strategies.

Image Credit: Flickr (gailjadehamilton and Victor1558)