Counting the cost of the new normal

20th June 2013

The proliferation of personal smartphones and tablets in the workplace may be unstoppable, but finance chiefs should closely consider the associated costs before deciding whether this is to be encouraged, as FSN writer Lesley Meall discovers.

 

 

 

Not long after you get your first smartphone you wonder how you ever managed without it; then you get your first tablet device and that quickly starts to feel like a necessity too. So now you have two electronic devices to take with you almost everywhere you go: from the largest outdoor space to the smallest room in the house – and if you also want to bring your own device (BYOD) into the workplace you are not alone. Many recent studies report that between two thirds and three quarters of smartphone and tablet owning employees now bring them to work, often without the knowledge of the IT department and often in spite of anti-BYOD policies. 

“Trying to stand in the path of consumerised mobility is likely to be a damaging and futile exercise,” says Richard Absalom, consumer impact technology analyst with the research firm Ovum, adding: “We believe businesses are better served by exploiting this behaviour to increase employee engagement and productivity, and promote the benefits of enterprise mobility.” This seems to be received wisdom.  A highly unscientific straw poll of recent research and comment from analyst firms indicates a tendency to characterise BYOD as ‘a good thing’ that can potentially deliver all sorts of business benefits. 

"The benefits of BYOD include creating new mobile workforce opportunities, increasing employee satisfaction, and reducing or avoiding costs," says David Willis, vice president and analyst at Gartner. BYOD certainly marks a big shift in the economics and culture of computing in business: Gartner predicts that by 2017, half of employers will require employees to supply their own device for work purposes and corporate-liable programs will become the exception. But Willis suggests that the business case for BYOD needs to be better evaluated, in another FSN article here, that also offers some advice on managing a corporate BYOD programme.

If you put your sceptic’s hat on and look beyond the hype the BYOD phenomenon can seem like more of a mixed blessing. “There are some bad arguments for BYOD that grownups should stop bringing up,” says Hyoun Park, an analyst with Nucleus Research – particularly in relation to cost, productivity and security. For direct costs, he says, there is a hierarchy that companies need to consider. “The best financial approach is to provide no reimbursement. The second best is to provide a monthly stipend automated in the pay check that is less than the amount the employee pays,” he says, and this stipend should reflect additional support and security costs. 

Device support issues do not evaporate just because a device is owned by an individual employee. “The majority of enterprise mobility support issues are associated with email, application and network support,” says Park, and these exist no matter who owns the device, though in many enterprises the support for BYOD devices can be significantly more challenging. “Because the company can no longer plan for the hardware that will be supported by the enterprise it must assume that everything will be supported,” says Park. That some enterprises get around this by limiting support to iOS or Android arguably highlights the value of standardisation. 

“BYOD is one of IT security and governance’s biggest nightmares,” says Park, especially in regulated sectors. “Most employees don’t understand governance, risk management and compliance well enough to protect their own devices,” he observes, and the associated problems are set to escalate. BYOD has so far focussed on personal devices, but their use in the workplace increasingly involves a plethora of things that can potentially be associated with this: from tools such as DropBox, through operating systems such as Android and iOS to the many applications and services that go hand in hand with most use of smartphones and tablets.

 

Some are now describing this latest trend as BYOX – or bring your own anything. As trends in mobile, cloud and social progressively erase the hard lines that once separated the personal and the professional, workforce use of personal devices has moved beyond simply ‘connecting’ to the corporate network. Individual employees  are increasingly likely to not just select and buy their own mobile devices, but to chose which apps they use for personal and professional social networking, sharing and synchronising files, and communicating using instant messaging and internet voice communications and video. 

So where does this leave those in the finance function? Working with IT to address the demand for investment in tools for end-to-end device management, user access to data behind the corporate firewall, the management of user content in numerous public cloud repositories, and laying the foundations to support the bring your own phenomenon (whether its tagged BYOD or BYOX). It’s time to take control and ensure thorough cost benefit analyses, says Park: “Not to shut down employees, but to improve mobile access to the applications, data and documents that will help them to do work.” Because as Absalom observes: “This is not a passing fad.”

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