Saturday, February 18, 2012

BYOD - Bring Your Own Device

By popular demand, many companies are shifting ownership of elements of corporate infrastructure onto their employees. This is known as BYOC (bring your own computer) or BYOD (bring your own device).

There are many aspects to this trend.

1. Culture. Talented recruits may see this kind of choice as a desirable feature of a future employer. Some of them may have a strong personal commitment to a particular device; others may ask about BYOD policy as a quick way of getting a general impression of company culture and its attitude towards employees.

(Even if BYOD is a common request at interview, this doesn't mean it is a genuine requirement. In some cases, the BYOD request could be similar to the apparently crazy riders that performers may add to contracts as a way of testing the diligence and attention to detail of the organizers. The best-known example of such a contract rider is Van Halen's insistence on a bowl of MnMs with the brown ones removed. See "Brown out" at

2. Interoperability. There is a need for interoperability within the enterprise (endo-interoperability) as well as interoperability with external platforms (exo-interoperability). Within the enterprise, people expect to be able to use common services (email, communications, content management, and so on) regardless of device. When I'm in the office, I want to be able to connect my device to office devices such as printers and projectors, as well as using the office network and servers. When I'm working at home, I want to be able to connect my device into the office systems, and use my device for web conferences and other events. But I also want to be able to connect my device into public platforms such as Facebook.

3. Innovation. Early adopters like to carry the latest and most fashionable device, even if this doesn't yet support all the required corporate services in a robust manner.

4. Business continuity and risk. A person's productivity can be seriously impaired if the device is lost or develops a fault. Conversely, a company's security can be seriously impaired if an employee uses an unverified emergency device such as her teenage son's phone. Does BYOD imply the rapid availability of backup devices of every conceivable brand, or does the company provide a limited range of standard devices for emergency use?

5. Support. Does the device deliver all the required corporate services correctly, efficiently and securely? Whose responsibility is it to verify and test these services on the given device, and to sort out the (inevitable) configuration problems? What knowledge and expertise is needed to provide adequate support across the full range of devices?

6. Economics. Device provision within large organizations was traditionally based on the economics of scale. We purchase thousands of identical devices, install the same software and services on each one, and issue these to our employees. We can obtain good discounts from the hardware and software suppliers, and we can train our support staff to provide efficient support across a narrow range of products. But this approach fails to deal with the complexities of the modern business organization where each employee has different needs, often calling for additional non-standard software and services, or even newer devices. So most modern organizations shift to provision of devices based on the economics of scope - giving everyone a flexible device platform to which additional software and services can be easily added. Then the move to BYOD takes us into the economics of alignment - optimizing the lifetime cost of device provision against the lifetime benefits to the organization and the individual within the context of use.

7. BYOD represents a shift in the balance between two kinds of device vendor - the ones who sell thousands of devices at a time by schmoozing the CIO and the ones who sell devices to individuals via consumer channels. (As a result, some stakeholders may be cynical and unsympathetic to any objection to BYOD from the CIO quarter.)

8. More fundamentally, BYOD represents a shift in the balance of power between two kinds of knowledge. The corporate IT folk supposedly know more about the corporate services and about quality attributes such as reliability and security. However, the individual employee knows more about the context of use. The architectural question here is aligning the device selection, configuration and use with the emerging requirements of the individual in the job. This is ultimately a question of governance, which needs to be guided by appropriate BYOD policies.

A lot of architectural issues then.

Fiona Graham, BYOC: Should employees buy their own computers? (BBC News 14 January 2011)

Fiona Graham, BYOD: Bring your own device could spell end for work PC (BBC News 14 February 2012)

Eric Vanderburg, Four Keys to Successful BYOD (CIO 14 February 2012)

Related posts:

Bring your own expectations (May 2014)

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