Housing Technology interviewed experts on the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) trend from Accellion, Diligent Boardbooks, JMC IT, MET, Microsoft, Oneserve and Sovereign Business Integration Group to find out how BYOD is relevant to housing providers, its advantages and disadvantages, its different delivery models and who is driving its adoption in housing.
The BYOD trend stems from the widespread adoption of smartphones, tablet devices and, to a lesser extent, laptops. As a greater proportion of workers had easier access to computing power that was previously confined to desktop PCs and laptops, the boundaries between personal and work use became blurred. In short, BYOD is about letting employees use their own devices for work, ranging from simple applications such as corporate emails and calendars to allowing users to access line-of-business applications and collaborative platforms. According to JMC IT, around 80 per cent of employees now use their own smartphones, tablets and laptops to access work applications.
Charles Brooks, the principal consultant at Sovereign Business Integration Group, said, “BYOD has exploded due to the consumerisation of IT and the ever increasing use of smart phones. Employees now bring their devices to work in the same way that they would bring their packed lunch.”
Enterprise security specialists Gemalto recently surveyed 400 people from a cross-section of UK businesses with 3,000+ employees to find out about their IT security policies. A third of the respondents said that they used their own devices to work on corporate networks, despite 15 per cent of them admitting that their IT department didn’t know about their device usage. All of the C-level executives and directors taking part in Gemalto’s survey used at least one personal device at work, and of the wider BYOD users, 43 per cent didn’t have the latest security software on the personal devices they used at work.
Different delivery models
As with all other areas of technology, there are many different models for BYOD, not only in terms of how much access is given to corporate application and data, but also in terms of how the devices are funded, owned and maintained.
Jes Breslaw, EMEA marketing director for Accellion, said, “How you deliver BYOD depends on how much security you want. If you are looking for higher levels of security and control, you should be considering mobile device management (MDM) solutions such as MobileIron or Good Technology. For example, if an employee is leaving acrimoniously, do you want to be able to remotely wipe the work-related emails and documents on their phone? MDM will also enable you to restrict the use of free consumer file-sharing applications like DropBox and enforce the use of secure alternatives.”
Brooks from Sovereign said, “There used to be one model which enabled employees to access work-related content on their own device and use this device anywhere, albeit with little corporate control. Now companies are using MDM so that each device can be controlled via one corporate environment. This increases data security and enables all users to share upgrades, information and usability of software.”
What constitutes a ‘personal device’ can vary from a typical smartphone owned and paid for by the employee to perhaps a tablet bought by the employee using either a lump sum or monthly allowance paid by their employer, a model that Accellion’s Breslaw described as, “CYOD – choose your own device.”
Mark Summers, head of technology sales at JMC IT, said, “At its simplest, housing providers can adopt BYOD in two simple ways, either by offering employees a lump sum to cover the cost of their primary work device instead of buying it for them or they can be given a monthly allowance, much as they might offer employees a company car. The next step is to combine this with a flexible working strategy, which can be achieved alongside BYOD in a variety of ways depending on the organisation’s attitude to risk, data security and how they want their staff to access corporate information and applications.”
Advantages of BYOD
For housing providers, BYOD presents considerable cost savings because, in most cases, the employee will be paying for the device and any monthly contract fees. For the housing staff, BYOD means that they no longer need to use one work device as well as one personal device.
Dominic Harrington, client services director at Oneserve, said, “First and foremost, BYOD offers huge capital savings, simply because a housing provider doesn’t have to give its staff a tablet or smartphone. They can simply bring their own, and for a housing provider with 100 field-based workers and devices costing £200 each, BYOD could deliver an immediate saving of £20,000.”
Kelvin McGlynn, business development manager at MET, added, “A controlled deployment of BYOD is one of those rare win-win situations. Housing staff will have greater flexibility, a better way of working and improved morale, while the housing provider can reduce its financial overheads and the IT department can ease the administrative burden, reduce its costs and complexity while still controlling security and maintenance.”
The effect of BYOD on IT teams is often over-shadowed by concerns about security, but these can be outweighed by the maintenance and software lifecycle benefits of BYOD. Jeff Jones, director of security for Microsoft UK, said, “We can’t ignore the cost savings related to device maintenance. Employee familiarity with their personal device leads to fewer support calls, and the employees themselves, rather than the IT staff, will ensure the product is up-to-date. Another benefit of BYOD for housing providers is that individual users tend to upgrade to the latest hardware, and migrate to the newest software platforms much faster than their employers. The business therefore is able to take advantage of cutting-edge technology without the pain and expense of a massive hardware refresh or software upgrade.”
Bring your own disaster?
The most-commonly cited disadvantage of BYOD naturally concerns data security. Smartphones and tablets can be easily lost or stolen, and fraudsters and hackers are increasingly targeting mobile devices because they are usually less protected against viruses and malware. BYOD is therefore a two-way street in terms of data integrity and security as it could lead to ‘data leakage’, whether deliberately or unwittingly, from the corporate network at the same time as providing a conduit for the introduction of malware into corporate networks.
Mascha van Eijk, EMEA sales director for Diligent Boardbooks, said, “The security of the corporate network and its content is a big concern for IT teams as far as BYOD is concerned. The key way of securing corporate data is to ensure that employees are aware of the company’s IT policy, and, more importantly, actually adhere to it. Another key element is to have protocols for basics like username and password, and not using the same ones across social media sites and corporate logins.”
JMC IT’s Summers added, “There are some obvious challenges that housing providers need to address and work with their IT partner in order to make BYOD and, if they choose to, mobile working a success. For example, how do personal devices connect to the corporate network and run applications or access data, particularly if the device is not Windows-based? And how is data security maintained, are individual’s devices equipped with malware protection, and what about software licensing? If you’re serious about BYOD, then providing adequate anti-virus software and security guidance will minimise the risks.”
The use of personal devices to access corporate information also has a compliance and regulatory aspect to it. As MET’s McGlynn explained, “The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published its advice on BYOD, making it clear that data protection remains the responsibility of the data controller, not the owner of the device. Therefore, in some instances, the costs of applying additional security combined with the usage restrictions being applied to a personal device may actually outweigh the original benefits being sought.”
While BYOD may reduce the workload for some parts of housing providers’ IT departments, the variety of devices and operating systems and the vagaries of individual end-users may cause other headaches for IT staff. Sovereign’s Brooks said, “Smartphones and tablets run on many different systems so BYOD means that IT teams must be ready to deal with all eventualities for all devices. Furthermore, many employees will be self-trained on the use of their device and therefore may not be using it correctly, causing additional issues for the IT team. This poses the question: does your IT department have sufficient staff and resources to manage BYOD efficiently?”
Is BYOD right for you?
It is clear that BYOD offers considerable financial and productivity advantages, but these are balanced by the resources needed to implement a BYOD strategy properly, and its inherent corporate and regulatory risks. The relevance of BYOD to a housing provider will depend on many criteria, such as its size, the maturity of its IT infrastructure, the availability of IT resources, the willingness of senior management to champion and support the chosen strategy, and its corporate attitude to risk.
Van Eijk from Diligent Boardbooks said, “Look at your current IT team and work out whether you want to offer the same tools that BYOD can offer, but on the company’s own devices. BYOD can be an expensive strategy if your IT team is relatively small, and you might want to consider which particular applications are available to BYOD devices, or only allow a limited number of variations, such as Pads in the boardroom and for senior management.”
McGlynn from MET added, “As a BYOD user myself, I’m an evangelist on the subject so I would say that if BYOD isn’t the right strategy for all housing providers now, it will be very soon. BYOD is an inevitable consequence of how society is adopting technology, and if housing providers want to recruit and retain talented staff, their working environments must mirror these cultural changes by giving employees flexible options.”
Sovereign’s Brooks simply said, “It’s not compulsory to have a BYOD policy, and in some cases, the disadvantages may outweigh the positives.”
Having decided to embark on a BYOD strategy, its assessment, implementation and ongoing management should be treated in the same way as any other large-scale IT project affecting the entire organisation. Its potential benefits, risk, viability and costs need to be measured and planned, followed by testing it using a pilot project and gaining widespread support across relevant departments and people within the organisation, and finally full-scale implementation and ongoing monitoring.
Diligent Boardbooks’ Van Eijk said, “Start with the basic questions: is this something we want to invest time and money in? Do we have the right skills in-house to manage all of the different devices in a secure and controlled manner? Do we have a policy already or do we need to create one? Is this really going to make our employees more effective or is it something that is merely ‘nice to have’?”
McGlynn from MET said, “Face it and embrace it – assess what you need, design the solution, deploy it and support it, and then sit back and watch productivity rocket. However, don’t neglect data protection because although the ICO hasn’t yet fined anyone for data loss from a personal device, it has made it clear they are taking the issue very seriously.”
Oneserve’s Harrington explained, “Be open to BYOD – involve end-users of mobile devices in discussions about the potential adoption of BYOD, and focus on its benefits, the potential pitfalls and what’s right for your organisation. But, with BYOD only expected to increase in popularity, you should start engaging with your end-users right now.”
Pull or push?
Originally, BYOD was driven by end-users who finally had access to mobile computing capabilities and therefore wanted to use their smartphones and tablets in a corporate context. At first, this was seen as something that organisations would merely tolerate and begrudgingly accept, but as BYOD has become a mainstream strategy and more and more end-users have their own devices, organisations have started to understand its benefits to them and begun to actively promote BYOD. So, is BYOD being ‘pulled’ by end-user demands or ‘pushed’ by housing providers?
MET’s McGlynn said, “Until now, it has been ‘pull’ from end users but that needs to change. We are seeing the emergence of a strategic approach to BYOD in some areas which is encouraging, but there are still a huge number of housing providers who risk data loss because end-users will be using their own devices in an uncontrolled manner.”
Summers from JMC IT added, “At the moment, BYOD is being driven by a natural shift from employees who want to access their work applications from their mobile phones and home devices, but IT departments and housing providers themselves are waking up to the benefits of how this can support a mobile working strategy.”
Housing providers should be wary about the choice and variety of devices and operating systems. Harrington from Oneserve said, “While employees feel more motivated, comfortable and happier using their own device at work, operational, IT and procurement teams are embracing BYOD too. However, ‘future jam’ is often cited, where a housing provider gets tied to a single operating system and OS-related devices; when the devices are in short supply or the operating system becomes obsolete, that’s when the jam starts.”
Typical BYOD users
Several years ago, when BYOD was in its infancy, demand for BYOD was usually coming from younger members of staff who were among the first to embrace smartphones and tablets. Now that such devices are ubiquitous, demand for BYOD is coming from everyone, from board members and senior executives, mobile workers and ‘generation Y’ staff.
Van Eijk from Diligent Boardbooks said, “Anyone can be a BYOD user, but the reasons behind the choice vary, from young professionals who are used to working with mobile devices from an early age, to seasoned executives who travel frequently. Executives also tend to adopt new technology to save themselves and the company time and money by being in constant contact with the office.”
Brooks from Sovereign added, “BYOD users are drawn from all generations but the main advocates of BYOD are ‘generation Y’. The supporters of BYOD are usually those people who are very active in social media and want to be available and on the go at all times.”
BYOD isn’t something that can be dismissed as a short-term fad; it’s now a mainstream area of technology and therefore needs to be considered alongside other operational requirements. BYOD could apply to everyone in your organisation, with the consequent financial and productivity benefits. Data leakage and security are certainly the main obstacles to the adoption of BYOD but they should be considered as part of the wider picture such as existing data transfer processes to and from your organisation using free file-sharing sites and USB memory sticks.
Housing Technology would like to thank Jes Breslaw (Accellion), Charles Brooks (Sovereign Business Integration Group), Dominic Harrington (Oneserve), Jeff Jones (Microsoft), Kelvin McGlynn (MET), Mark Summers (JMC IT) and Mascha van Eijk (Diligent Boardbooks) for contributing to this article. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute to our future feature articles.