Back in the 1970s, the abbreviation “BYOD” meant a cheap-and-cheerful party: it stood for “Bring Your Own Drinks”. Today, if a job offer includes “BYOD” at the bottom, turning up with a bottle of cheap wine probably isn’t a good idea.
Today, it means “Bring Your Own Device”, and it’s big news for techies and businesses. It refers to the practice of allowing employees to bring their own computing kit to work.
Ten years ago, in larger organisations, it was almost inconceivable that the IT Manager would let people hook their own computers and phones up to the company’s network. It was far too dangerous or complicated. So, what’s changed? And why should small businesses care?
Well, we use more devices than ever and we are more connected than ever. Our own technology is more personalised than ever, and businesses similarly now have better tools to allow these devices to be connected to office networks without complication or danger.
A policy of allowing employees to bring in their own stuff has ample benefits, and companies large and small are wise to want to take advantage of them:
- BYOD keeps staff happy. They don’t have to carry two phones around all the time. They can use phones and computers which are fully personalised to their own preferences and convenience. Plus, they get to use work-provided software at home, which is a valuable benefit.
- With BYOD, staff use equipment with which they are familiar. That means there’s no familiarisation period during which new hires are largely unproductive
- BYOD helps your cashflow: there aren’t many other situations in which you can offload capital expenditure to your employees – and find that they thank you for it!
- And with BYOD, upgrades are left to the individual. People tend to upgrade their personal mobile phones and computers much more regularly than businesses do. Your money-conscious upgrade programme can be thrown out in favour of an employee-led process which will generally give you more up-to-date IT.
Those IT managers we mentioned before must be a stuffy old bunch, right? Unfortunately, they were right to take a conservative attitude. BYOD comes with its own set of concerns, too:
- BYOD, almost by definition, means that important company data will be kept on these machines and also leave the confines of the office. Laptops and phones containing company data will, sooner or later, end up left on a train on the daily commute. This is, of course, a risk to company information. It’s also a perimeter security risk. If, for example, you connect by wi-fi to the office network, and have the computer configured to connect automatically, there’s nothing to stop the more dubious reprobate from parking his car outside your office and gently embezzling all the additional data he possibly can.
- There’s no accounting for taste, and under a BYOD regime, you can be sure that people with wildly differing handsets, laptops, operating systems and software configurations will hook up to your network. This can make managing basic security, networking and systems maintenance a real headache for IT professionals. If you don’t have an in-house specialist (and few small businesses do), this can mean you incur greater support costs when something goes wrong.
- BYOD requires a rigorous farewell policy for employees leaving the company. It’s rarely a problem for staff leaving on good terms, but if you have to say goodbye to a member of staff with whom your relationship has soured, getting company data off their personal machines can be something of a challenge.
- Finally, be aware of another security issue: virus protection. Most companies are now tech-savvy enough to enforce a uniform antivirus policy. Many employees, though, don’t go the expense of protecting their machines (which they should, of course!). It’s worth assuming that BYOD’d devices are underprotected.
Even so, the experts agree that the benefits of BYOD in productivity and employee satisfaction far outweigh the risks. Besides, you can mitigate the risks with some judicious application of policies and technologies. Here are some key ideas:
- BYOD is not the same as BWYWWYWT (we just invented that: it’s ‘Bring whatever you want, whenever you want to’). BYOD should require initial permission first. Then, any preparatory setup, on a one-off basis, can maximise security without compromising productivity.
- Turn antivirus into an employee benefit. Offer to pay for antivirus on any laptop which employees want to bring into the office. It won’t cost much, and certainly far less than fixing virus problems after the event. A powerful, low-cost and transparent option for growing companies with Windows devices is Windows Intune.
- Insist that BYOD staff sign a BYOD policy. It should include a definition of the fair use of their own equipment during office hours, and also enshrine your right to require that they delete – and prove it to have been done – any commercially sensitive information on their departure from the company.
- Invest in remote-wipe or remote-disable technologies. Windows Phones can be remote-wiped if they are stolen; and if you use Microsoft Exchange for your email, downloaded emails can be remotely removed from both laptops and mobile devices.
All of this can be achieved with minimal effort and minimal cost, which is ideal for small businesses who are watching the pennies. There’s no question that BYOD brings major benefits – and fast. With the right on-boarding processes you can minimise the risks and see your employees happier and more productive whilst actually removing financial burden from the business.