In a report from consultancy Forrester, Charting the Rise of Bring-Your-Own Technology, information technology analyst Connie Moore predicts that within two years companies will no longer issue standard productivity technology for staff.
She notes: “Instead of providing corporate PCs, most enterprises will either give employees a BYOT [bring your own technology] allowance or just assume the employee already owns the technology needed to do the job.”
The first wave of staff bringing their own devices to their place of work is well advanced. Staff are becoming more demanding, especially in choosing how they connect to company email systems, their ability to work flexibly and their hardware, software and social media preferences – the company-issued laptop and BlackBerry are no longer sufficient.
While an IT department previously might have rolled out Research in Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry smartphones across a company to enable staff to access the corporate email system securely outside the office, people now want to use their own smartphones. And they prefer tablets to heavier – though more functional – laptops for browsing the web, reading email and viewing presentations, for example.
Angelo Chrysanthou is head of information systems at INPS, which supplies the Vision clinical software system to primary care trusts. The company has been using BlackBerry in conjunction with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) for several years to provide secure access to email.
“The majority of users have a [company-issued] BlackBerry, but many people are bringing their own devices to work, such as an iPhone or iPad,” says Mr Chrysanthou.
RIM has developed a product called Mobile Fusion which became available to UK customers in April and allows iOS or Android devices to connect to its BES for secure email access. INPS however, opted for a product called MobileIron, which is installed on staff’s own devices and provides strong data security for accessing work email.
Like Mobile Fusion, MobileIron works with Android and iOS devices. It ensures employees use a secure password, which is changed regularly, and limits how much email they can access and which smartphone apps they can download, says Mr Chrysanthou.
Steve Whiter, a director at Appurity, an IT consultancy that helps companies enhance and optimise mobile data access, recommends businesses consider the impact of smartphones and tablet computers on their wireless networks, as these devices rely on network connectivity. Appurity belongs to the BlackBerry alliance partner programme and the Apple Consulting Network.
According to Mr Whiter, introducing 100 iPads might seem like a great way to demonstrate that an IT department is right behind staff bringing their own devices to work, but there are hidden implications.
“People forget that the last update to iOS, which the iPad uses, was a 54Mb download. If there are only a few wireless access points on the network, they will be overloaded by the amount of data the iPads will download for [such an] update.”
The tablet challenge
Tablet devices are not PCs and most line-of-business applications are unlikely to run on them. IT departments can solve this problem thanks to “thin client” technology, which has been around for many years but is going through a resurgence.
The thin client – in this case an iPad or Android tablet – displays the Microsoft Windows user interface, but the applications run on a PC elsewhere on the corporate network. This allows staff to use their own tablets or smartphones to access corporate applications such as human resources software, order processing, accounts management, customer relationship and any traditional PC-based software.
But software written for a desktop PC often does not translate well on to a tablet that lacks the external keyboard and mouse on which many enterprise software packages rely for data entry.
Businesses are also having to adapt their security policies to take account of this consumerisation of IT. But according to David Willis, chief of research, mobility and communications at IT analyst Gartner, IT departments need to establish new contracts with employees, as allowing people to use their own devices at work has far-reaching implications beyond security.
“It is a radical change in policy,” he says. “The policy has to address who qualifies, what the user’s responsibilities are, what they can expect in IT support and how the employee will be reimbursed for usage.”
These are issues the IT department cannot be expected to address by itself. “Get human resources and your legal team involved – there are complex labour, privacy and tax implications,” says Mr Willis.
Cliff Saran is managing editor, technology, at Computer Weekly
This article has been amended since original publication to reflect the fact that RIM’s multi-platform mobile device management tool, Mobile Fusion, was made available to UK customers in April.