BYOD Gives Organizations a Competitive Edge

By Samuel Greengard

Over the last few years, as the use of mobile technology has spiked and consumer devices have invaded the enterprise, business and IT executives have scrambled to adapt. At the center of all this disruption is the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement.

“Companies looking to gain a competitive edge and win the war for talent have no choice but to embrace BYOD,” observes Gary Curtis, chief technology strategist and managing director at Accenture Management Consulting.

In fact, the pressure on executives to accept BYOD is immense, and there’s no sign of the situation changing anytime soon. What’s more, as smartphones and tablets creep into the mainstream of business—and workers use these devices at home to handle the overflow of office work—the way businesses approach and deploy IT systems is undergoing a major shift.

There’s a growing focus on tapping into consumer tools and technologies. This includes enterprise app stores, personal clouds, social media and geolocation-linked services that deliver new and different ways to communicate and interact.

BYOD touches virtually every corner of the enterprise—IT, operations, human resources, legal and more—and these trends require new strategies and tools to manage devices and data.

“CIOs and IT executives are no longer the gatekeepers,” says Fernando Alvarez, senior vice president and global mobile solutions leader at Capgemini. “We have entered a new era of IT that’s heavily dependent on consumer technology.”

What was once a trickle of consumer devices in the enterprise has morphed into a flood. Consulting firm Gartner describes BYOD as the single most radical shift in the economics of business computing since the introduction of the PC. In fact, for many professionals—particularly younger workers—the ability to use the smartphone or tablet of their choice determines where they will work.

“Millennials don’t want to be part of a company that restricts the use of consumer technology,” Accenture’s Curtis explains. “If the organization imposes tight restrictions, they will figure out a way to skirt the rules and requirements.”

Not surprisingly, this situation creates huge challenges for CIOs and others on the front lines of IT. As workers tuck these devices in their pockets and use them for their jobs, the line between enterprise and personal data blurs.

In addition, a growing number of workers are using cloud services that run outside the IT department and are loading rogue apps onto these devices, including popular programs like Dropbox and Evernote. Although these tools make it easier for knowledge workers to do their jobs—wherever they are or whatever device they’re using—they ratchet up the stakes for IT.

According to various industry estimates, somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of organizations now accommodate BYOD in some shape or form. “Most CIOs have come to recognize that it’s not their job to fight BYOD; it’s their responsibility to find ways to make it work to the advantage of both employees and the enterprise,” Curtis notes.

Only a few major exceptions exist, he says. These include government agencies and industries— such as aerospace or financial services—that handle highly sensitive or confidential data.

Adoption Rate Is Growing

One organization that has wholeheartedly adopted BYOD is the Suquamish Tribe of Northwest Washington State. Overall, it has about 1,200 tribal members and operates a variety of casinos, gas stations, minimarts and other businesses. It also interfaces with several government agencies about natural resources, community development and housing, and health care. The tribe also operates a police force and wellness clinics.

About 100 of the Suquamish Tribe’s 310 employees carry mobile devices, and the adoption rate is rising at about 50 percent annually, notes IT director Tom Bettenhausen.

“People take their work home with them, they need data and documents on the road and they want to have instant access to their own data,” Bettenhausen says. “Like everyone else, we feel we’re playing catch up with the BYOD trend. Employees need to do their job well and balance their requirements with the governance and security requirements of the organization.”

In some cases, the tribe manages sensitive data that relates to the government and HIPAA-compliant information, he notes.

The Suquamish Tribe uses a mobile device management system from Absolute Software to aid in the task of overseeing BYOD, including which apps are stored on devices. In addition, the IT department relies on firewalls, VPNs and edge security tools to monitor data.

Bettenhausen and other executives can view mobile devices from a central console. A small applet the organization installs on phones allows it to locate a lost or stolen device and wipe it if there’s a security risk.

He expects almost everyone in the organization to bring their own device to work within the next couple of years. “We have passed the tipping point in terms of the use of workers using their own mobile devices,” Bettenhausen says. “Blocking access doesn’t fly anymore. We aim to mitigate the risk, but enable the opportunity to work faster and more efficiently.”

The tribe is now accumulating internal expertise so that it can create Microsoft and iOS apps. In the coming months, it plans to distribute custom apps through Apple’s App Store.