BYOD Policy Or Buy Everyone An iPhone?

Enterprise Connect participants debate the best way to respond to the unstoppable trend toward consumerization of mobile devices.
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You can't manage mobile communications and computing today without taking consumerization into account, but that doesn't necessarily mean going full-tilt "bring your own device" (BYOD). Maybe you just need to buy everyone an iPhone.

One of the recurring themes of this year's Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando was that arguing against consumerization is a losing battle. The concept of BYOD--allowing users to bring their own devices to work, rather than issuing corporate smartphones or tablets--was also a major topic of discussion. On the other hand, the idea of making the iPhone the new standard (or putting it on the shortlist of devices users can select), was also a popular alternative from those who believe IT needs to retain control of the devices that are allowed to connect to the network.

This was the topic of several panel discussions and also a more informal conversation about consumerization and BYOD at a breakfast hosted by Siemens Enterprise Communications. Two out of three Siemens customers at the breakfast said it made sense to give the iPhone the place of honor as the standard corporate device for mobility, formerly occupied by BlackBerry. Given the offer of an iPhone, the impetus for BYOD tends to fade because "that's what people wanted anyway," they said. One of these firms had already chosen that strategy, while another was leaning in that direction.

The case for retaining control was articulated by Philippe Winthrop, founder and managing director of the Enterprise Mobility Foundation, which operates the Enterprise Mobility Forum.

[ Learn 4 BYOD Security Strategies For Small Business. ]

"It's important not to confuse BYOD with the consumerization of IT--there's a huge difference," Winthrop said. Some organizations are deciding to stick with issuing a corporate-owned phone, but to make that phone the iPhone, he said. That gives the organization a way to retain the control it needs, while making users happy by providing them with a sexy consumer device, he said.

Winthrop advocates what he calls the COPE strategy, for corporate-owned personally enabled--embracing the empowerment of the user associated with the consumerization, but without giving up the control the corporation needs for security and compliance. Some of the controls that BYOD advocates see as answers, such as the ability to remotely wipe the data on a phone if an employee quits or is fired, become meaningless now that people are routinely backing up their phones to cloud computing services, he said. International firms also need to be aware that deleting an individual's personal data with a remote wipe is against the law in several European countries.

In addition to the control issues, Winthrop argues the cost savings anticipated for a BYOD strategy often will not materialize, both because of the cost of support and management, and because the organization loses purchasing power when it reimburses employees for their own device purchases. The only way around that is to "offer a stipend that is less than what you would get from bulk contract negotiation," he said.

Yet organizations that try to stem the tide are often frustrated, said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. "Even if they don't want to do it, it's coming." He tells the story of a company where "the IT department had no intention of supporting BYOD, but then the company had a good year and the CEO bought every employee, six thousand of them, an iPad. They went from no-BYOD to all-BYOD overnight."

Robert Harris, president of the consulting firm Communications Advantage, said some of his clients are in the middle of ambitious BYOD projects. Typically, they still give employees a list of devices considered acceptable for business use, he said. "The balance is actually not that difficult because users want guidance. You end up narrowing it down to the devices they can use and you can manage. A lot of times it may be the first time someone has bought a smartphone--not everyone is a smartphone power user."

One important aspect of the transition is a communications plan, including training videos about how access to IT services will change, Harris said. "You cannot over-communicate. People are still going to have questions."

One client in particular is finding it's not so easy to tell users they're on their own now, Harris said. "They had a pretty good help desk for BlackBerry, so it's hard to wean the users off of that," he said. "I think they probably will wind up doing a little more support than they anticipated."

Keith Fancher, program manager for IBM's internal unified communications transformation program, said that initially support for BYOD users was based on self-service and peer support through an internal community website. However, he acknowledged that may not be enough as the program grows. "My guess is that we are going to have to have a help desk," he said.

Pat O'Keefe, manager of unified communications and security for the City of Mesa, Ariz., said the city's plan for moving to all-employee-owned smartphones is to limit the city's support to the specific application it provides. If people have problems with the phones themselves, "we'll push them back to Verizon or whoever the carrier is," he said. The users who select an iPhone will also be able to count on pretty good peer support because Apple enthusiasts are used to helping each other rather than relying on IT, he said.

Selecting or creating the right applications for business productivity is really where the focus should be, said Michael Finneran, a principal at the mobile consulting firm dBrn Associates, and the organizer of the mobility track at Enterprise Connect. "BYOD is not the thing you should be focusing on; the thing you should be focusing on is business transformation." The challenges of device security and manageability are relatively easy compared with figuring out how to maximize the opportunities mobility presents, he said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

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