The state of 'Bring Your Own Device'

BYOD has gone mainstream with smartphones and tablets. But what will happen with PCs?

Gordon Haff
Gordon Haff
Gordon Haff is Red Hat's cloud evangelist although the opinions expressed here are strictly his own. He's focused on enterprise IT, especially cloud computing. However, Gordon writes about a wide range of topics whether they relate to the way too many hours he spends traveling or his longtime interest in photography.
3 min read

It's dangerous for those of us in the tech industry to naively take what we see playing out in our workplaces every day as a mirror of the wider world. High-tech workers are often more technically savvy and likely to be early adopters. High-tech employers are likewise more inclined to let employees use the tools of their choice. And high-tech companies as a group are, almost by definition, far closer to technology adoption's leading edge.

Which raises the question of whether all the personal gadgets from smartphones to tablets to laptops that appear to be an increasingly integral part of most high-tech workplaces represent a broader norm or just a tech industry anomaly. Forrester Research's Frank Gillett recently published a report that takes a look at this question and highlights some of the findings in a blog post.

Forrester's "latest Forrsights workforce employee survey asked more than 9,900 information workers in 17 countries about all of the devices they use for work, including personal devices they use for work purposes." I found the results a bit eye-opening. I wasn't especially surprised to see that "IT consumerization," as the trend of bringing personal technology into the workplace is often called, does indeed appear to be a broad phenomenon. But I still sat up a bit because of just how big and how rapid the change has been. A couple of examples.

About 74 percent of the information workers in the survey used two or more devices for work -- and 52 percent used three or more.

When you dig into the data, the mix of devices used for work was different than what IT provides. About 25 percent were mobile devices, not PCs, and 33 percent used operating systems from someone other than Microsoft.

The vast majority of these gadgets aren't "Bring-Your-Own-Device" (BYOD) in the sense of a formal IT program that provides a stipend for employees to purchase specific types of devices. Gillett notes that: "If you only ask the IT staff, the answer will be that most use just a PC, some use a smartphone, and a few use a tablet." It's something of an irony that BYOD in its original tops-down, vendor- and IT-driven sense has largely fallen flat even while grassroots BYOD is going gangbusters.

That said, a new report by market researcher IDC that looked at BYOD trends in Australia and New Zealand suggests that more formal BYOD programs may become more common. "Widely publicized and high-profile BYOD case studies are further adding to the peer pressure. One in every two organizations are intending to deploy official BYOD policies, be it pilots, or partial- to organizational-wide rollouts, in the next 18 months," said Amy Cheah, market analyst for Infrastructure.

What's perhaps the more interesting tidbit in this report though is when it offers something of a counterpoint to the assumption that BYOD is something that everyone outside of IT strongly wants and prefers. Cheah writes that "IDC's Next Generation Workspace Ecosystem research has found that only two out of ten employees want to use their own device for work and for personal use, which means corporate devices are still desired by the majority."

Why the apparent disconnect between the apparent pervasiveness of employee-purchased devices in the workplace and the continued desire for IT-supplied hardware? I think that Vittorio Viarengo is onto something when he wrote me that: "It is not about BYOD. It is about SYOM (Spend Your Own Money). That's why people like corporate devices."

It's increasingly common practice for people to use their personal smartphones for both business and pleasure, whether their cell phone bills are subsidized or not. And there doesn't seem to be a widespread expectation that employers will start buying tablets for their employees.

However, most companies still buy and support business PCs. I suspect we're seeing a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of many employees for that part of the status quo to radically change, especially if it means turning a company expense into a personal one.