The implementation and spread of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs, which allow employees to use their personal wireless devices such as smartphones and tablets for work activities, represents the most radical shift in the economics of client computing for business since PCs swept into the workplace, according to a report from IT research firm Gartner.
Though still in its infancy, and limited at the moment to smartphones and tablets, eventually BYOD initiatives would expand to include employees' notebook computers and other devices, according to the study. Even businesses that do not plan to adopt BYOD policies should have a clear position on allowance of personal devices in the workplace, the report said.
The Gartner research follows numerous surveys and studies suggesting that while BYOD adoption continues to grow, IT departments are struggling to adequately manage security and protect sensitive corporate data.
"With the wide range of capabilities brought by mobile devices, and the myriad ways in which business processes are being reinvented as a result, we are entering a time of tremendous change," David Willis, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said in a prepared statement. "The market for mobile devices is booming, and the basic device used in business compared to those used by consumers is converging. Simultaneously, advances in network performance allow the personal device to be married to powerful software that resides in the cloud."
The report also noted that while BYOD programs have the potential to reduce costs, they often do not, as mobile workers incur expensive data-roaming charges and the drive to deliver ever more capability to the mobile device, the costs of software, infrastructure, personnel support and related services will increase over time, while the inclusion of file-sharing platforms, business applications and collaboration tools will increase IT operations costs even further.
"Just as we saw with home broadband in the past decade, the expectation that the company will supply full reimbursement for equipment and services will decline over time, and we will see the typical employer favor reimbursing only a portion of the monthly bill," Willis continued. "We also expect that as adoption grows and prices decline employers will reduce the amount they reimburse."
Gartner analysts recommend businesses ensure data security through a mix of policy, software, infrastructure controls and education in the near term and with application management and appropriate cloud services in the longer term, working closely with human resources and legal departments to ensure compatibility with taxes, labor, corporate liability and employee privacy implications. With companies working to control security and monitor data access, organizations need to be aware of the legal implications involved in tracking personal devices on a corporate network.
"BYOD is not for every company, or every employee. There will be wide variances in BYOD adoption across the world-by geography, industry and corporate culture," Willis said in the statement. "Most programs are at the employee's discretion-they decide if they want to opt in. For the vast majority of companies, it is not possible to force all users into a bring-your-own (BYO) program without substantial financial investments-and considerable support from senior management."