Bring Your Own WHAT?

BYOD: This is a trend that doesn’t seem to be going away. AKA consumerisation of IT.

I first came across it talking to somebody from Citrix at the launch event for Windows Server 2008 R2. A company was giving employees £500 to buy a laptop with instead of giving them a standard PC. The desktop environment was then delivered onto that laptop.

“This is great, it means the IT department doesn’t have to support the hardware anymore”, said the guy from Citrix.

Except that somebody has to. In a large organisation (this was an oil company) there will be thousands of these devices, and probability dictates that some of them will develop faults. And not just hardware faults either. With no centrally managed software image it’s left to the user to keep the base OS running properly. So instead of your PC support team working on the laptop, and if necessary replacing it with another identical one, the user is left to log calls with <vendor> and suffer through <vendor>’s excruciating consumer-grade helpline. Which takes a long time. Which costs your organisation a lot of money in lost productivity.

It seemed as though this was contrary to everything that anyone with any technical nouse about running big IT systems stood for. And I think it still is.

I run hundreds of servers on a network with thousands of users and PCs. Some of the most time consuming problems we have to deal with are caused by some of the following:

  • User has found out how to connect their iPhone to our Exchange system and now new emails aren’t appearing in their inbox
  • User is trying to use our remote access system from their home broadband but is unable to connect or keeps getting cut off
  • User doesn’t “like” Windows and has decided to invest a large amount of time and effort to try and make an Apple or Linux machine “integrate” with our systems

Of the people who use our corporate managed PCs only, how many of them have issues with email like the one above? Hardly any. And on the whole the ones that do are those that have admininstrator rights on the PC and have filled it with rubbish (which is a separate, but related issue).

Other reasons for using BYOD are because you need less IT support staff, “the users support each other” – which of course means that they’re not able to get on with doing their own jobs as they’re busy trying to work out why somebody’s Android phone won’t talk to Exchange anymore. Or worse, why why their laptop won’t connect to your VDI system – and are thus not able to do any work at all.

I’m “lucky” in that I already have a remote access system in place (which works, to a point, for me), I have a managed desktop running on Citrix XenApp that remote users can connect to securely with their “own devices”. But do you? If not, that’s another big expense in both time and hardware/software.

Better make sure you can keep all that data safe and secure too. User lost their “device” – oops, hope you can remotely wipe it? You mean you didn’t ensure all the data on it was encrypted? All those corporate secrets on the stolen iPhone/laptop just waiting to be discovered… Oh yes, you can get security solutions to cater for this, but that’s going to cost you.

Just the sheer number of different consumer devices out there and trying to provide some kind of support for them will cost you. Added to the fact that the bulk discounts on your old corporate PC hardware will be gone because you’re not buying it in bulk anymore.

Got some kind of network access control system? How are you going to ensure that all these ever-changing devices are not riddled with malware when they appear on your network, and then infect all the other unmanaged devices on your network? More money.

There is a good reason why IT departments have evolved to use standard hardware and software – because it’s cheap to maintain, develop for and support. It allows your IT department to BE an IT department, and allows everyone else to get on and do their jobs too.

I completely concede that there are some consumer-grade IT products that can be used in the workplace, but don’t forget that they frequently have hidden costs, and may simply not be fit for purpose.

What I do find hard to believe is that by implementing systems and supporting BYOD, your workers’ productivity will go up enough to cover the increased costs. If you have any data/statistics to back me up or prove me wrong then I’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment.

Update 2013-02-11: The Register seems to think that BYOD is a PITA

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