At the core of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement should be the idea that the employee will have a better idea of what they need in order to do their job than IT does. Certainly, that was generally the case during the PC revolution, when line employees brought PCs into their companies and moved accounting from mid-range PCs and mainframes to Lotus 1-2-3, and employee and customer records to PC databases like Condor. But the current BYOD craze is being largely created and driven by Apple, and the selling angle isn’t productivity, it is fun apps and attractive hardware. This isn’t the mechanic wanting to use Snap-On tools rather than the generic stuff the firm provides; this is employees wanting to bring in technology equivalent to Super Soakers and Swiss Army knives. Is an iPad really that far removed from an Xbox?
I think we may have made a wrong turn someplace. We need to pull back to center before we wonder why productivity has cratered and porn watching and casual game playing has gone vertical instead.
The IT Disconnect
A cyclical problem that I call IT disconnect seems to be at the center of these employee-driven pushes to bring in new technology. I see it at the heart of moves in the 1980s to PCs and more recently to cloud services like Amazon Web Services. IT is less an enabler than a compliance organization that doesn’t want to overreach and often uses process to manage workload. What I mean is that IT employees get in the habit of using process, approvals and bureaucracy to be less helpful than they could be. The line of business gets frustrated and goes someplace else to get their stuff done.
PCs, outsourcing and, most recently, cloud services are indicative of this problem. It results from IT not keeping an eye on its customers to assure satisfaction in the face of improving alternatives like AWS.
When a major trend to move against IT is perceived, IT will tend to react tactically and try to embrace the trend to assure relevance. It may use a solution like MyIT or Cloud Boot Camp that allows it to offer a compliant and easy-to-use way to either use an internal or AWS (or similar) service while allowing IT to remain relevant, enforce compliance, and get out of the way of getting the job done.
But this time, suddenly folks are using IT’s willingness to compromise to bring in products that are not only not oriented toward work, but are actually unsafe.
Apple’s BYOD Plan
Unlike the PC wave, which was initiated by Apple and Commodore, then taken over by IBM and Compaq, the current BYOD wave is still largely led by Apple. And the company doesn’t get the business side of computing. It never has. Remember, two of its biggest failures are the Lisa and the Apple server. This last is the most memorable for me because I disagreed with the go-to-market plan for the product and we parted company during the roll out.
Apple sells on fun and status, not on productivity and security. It has done a fantastic job eclipsing BlackBerry, which remains focused on business today. And that is just nuts. At a time when we are all sweating bullets about the next data breach, in and out of government, we appear to be enabling the move to a far less secure and more dangerous product. On top of everything else, people are getting mugged for their Apple products. If your company buys you an iPhone and you get badly hurt when it is stolen, is the company liable, and is there a process to brick the phone? Both questions are mostly unanswered yet represent a very real threat to the employee. And the iPhone is actually more secure than many Android devices, which have become virus magnets.
I think we aren’t thinking. The end result will be a problem that in hindsight will look negligent.
Wrapping Up: Management
In the end, I think BYOD has gone too far and needs to be pulled back. I’m not going to suggest you pull your employees’ iPhones and replace them with BlackBerrys. I don’t want to be the comedian of the week and even I’d find that idea funny. However, I do think you need to manage the devices and implement management programs so you can at least assure the device is safe and can brick it, or at least remove company access if it is stolen or lost.
This is one of the areas in which I think wearable technology could help. I see a natural app that locks the phone if it is away from the smartwatch or other secondary wearable device as a great way to reduce this threat. I expect moving to device management solutions like BlackBerry’s or McAfee’s Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) would be a great way to assure that your employee can have the device they want while you can maintain the peace of mind you need.
If you want to hear me, or see me actually, tweet about this in person, I’m doing a Tweet chat from 6-7 PM on December 10th on the topic. Check it out and see if you agree that BYOD without EMM is insanely risky and really wrongheaded.