'Bring Your Own Smartwatch' Won't Cause an IT Management Crisis

NEWS ANALYSIS: Enterprises have already been coping for years with employees using their own smartphones at work. Here's why wearables won't change anything.

BYO Smartwatches 2

April 24 is as good a date as any to peg as the day wearable computing goes mainstream.

The Apple Watch ships that day. Within a few days of its release—possibly within a few hours (thanks to preorders), Apple could ship more smartwatches than all the smartwatches that had previously shipped from all other companies.

Everybody is focused on whether the Apple Watch is the best or right watch compared with others, or whether the public will or will not re-acquire the habit of wearing a watch.

These are irrelevant considerations for IT managers who will have to cope with the parade of wearable devices that will pass through the corporate office doors.

The fact is that Apple's special combination of design, manufacturing prowess, fan-base, marketing and retail mojo, among other factors, is mainstreaming smartwatches next month and, with it by extension, the wearable computing category.

The rising tide of Apple Watch interest and sales will lift all wearables boats. The wearable revolution is finally upon us, and it's time to accept the idea that by the end of the year, wearable devices (mostly smartwatches, for now) will be very common in companies across the country and around the world.

It's time now for us to understand what a wearable computing device really is and why it's so different from all previous devices.

What Is BYOD All About, Exactly?

An employee is more than just a person. He or she comes with non-human attributes, as well.

When a company hires a person, we acknowledge a boundary (without thinking about it much) between what lies within the employee's purview and what's lies within the company's.

In a conventional office, the company provides a desk, chair, computer, network, printer, office supplies—that sort of thing. These fall under the company's responsibility. When an employee leaves the company later on, all these items stay with the company.

The company is not normally in charge of providing eyeglasses, clothing, jewelry and other personal items. Those are the employees' possessions and they come with the hire. And it's up to the employee to provide those things as they choose. When an employee leaves, all these personal items depart with the employee.

This line between the employee and the company is what caused the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) problems in the first place. The initial assumption was that "office equipment" and computers were the natural purview of the company. Yet there was disagreement. Some employees felt that a laptop or a smartphone was part of the self—like eyeglasses, and not something that should be issued—and, therefore, owned and controlled—by the company.

The disagreement and confusion over who chooses, owns and maintains those devices is what the BYOD issue is all about.