By Matt Kaplan, VP of Products at LogMeIn
You’ve likely heard of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend. Up until recently, the IT department was the single source of tech in the workplace. Your computers, your phones, your mobile devices, your software apps, all were picked, procured and provisioned by the experts in IT. And then the iPhone happened, often brought in by CEOs saying “you WILL support this.” At least that’s the common consensus of the chain of events. But frankly it’s only the iconic, sexy – and myopic – chapter of a much larger bring-your-own tech story that started happening years before that, beginning with the arrival of the line-of-business web and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps. Salesforce.com, anyone? The first instances of WebEx and GoToMeeting? Heck, Skype, long used in European and North American businesses, was acquired by eBay a full two years before Steve Jobs unveiled the first generation iPhone. The reality is the BYO trend is a story still in progress. It’s a story that has the potential to end IT as we know it, forever change how business owners view workplace technology, and one that will put a whole lot of pressure on SMBs to guide employees through uncharted waters.
The most interesting part of the full BYO story is that each new development acts as a catalyst, dramatically accelerating what was happening before it. SaaS apps, like Salesforce.com, suddenly made employees feel empowered to solve their own problems – to go around IT when they wanted to address a specific need. That led to wider adoption of a myriad of smaller, web-based collaboration, communication and productivity solutions, many with a consumerized slant perfect for winning over users en masse. In essence, this was the birth of the bring-your-own-app or BYOA trend. Then came the iPhone, Android, and eventually the iPad and other tablets. And, as everyone knows, apps exploded. Suddenly, apps weren’t just being adopted to fill tech gaps while in the office. Many were being adopted to help employees work across devices and across locations.
Perhaps more importantly, this combination dramatically altered the availability of apps. Many, if not most, had free versions. Mobile apps became gateway drugs to cloud apps (think things like Dropbox and Evernote). Suddenly, this wasn’t some sales or marketing executive looking to deploy a less expensive, less intrusive CRM or web conferencing tool. It was potentially ANY employee looking to accomplish ANY task.
In a study of more 1000 small and medium-size businesses, we found that approximately 70 percent of SMBs are using at least one employee-introduced app, from social and collaboration tools (like Skype, join.me, Yammer) to productivity apps (like Evernote, Google Apps) and cloud file sharing services (like Cubby, Dropbox, YouSendIt, etc.).
These apps are also changing the way we define the workplace and the way we look at our tech portfolio. Work is no longer simply a place you go to. Instead, the workplace is defined by the employee and the tools they use, wherever they are. There’s also a growing understanding that productivity is a very personal thing: what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. In the BYOA era, the notion of consolidation and standardization is giving way to choice.
By and large, the respondents to the survey believed that BYOA was not only here to stay, but also offered significant benefits to their organization, including:
• Rapid discovery and adoption of new technologies. Instead of the IT department being solely responsible for researching the products on the market, companies can rely on a network of early adopters to discover useful apps.
• Productivity. Among survey respondents, 49 percent believe BYOA makes employees more productive. If employees are using tools they chose themselves, they’re more comfortable with those choices and more productive as a result.
• Cost savings. Instead of investing capital in one-size-fits-all solutions for the entire business, companies can purchase single-purpose apps on an as-needed basis. What’s more, employees who purchase these apps for both personal and business use often do so at their own expense. As a result, 35 percent of survey respondents felt that BYOA lowered costs.
Of course, there are some potential downsides to this paradigm shift, namely less control and greater security risks. Take popular cloud file sync and sharing apps for instance. They’re easy to use and great for working from anywhere across devices. But they also open up the doors to unintended data leakage risks. You could ban them – some companies have – but for most businesses that is likely an overreaction that means missing out on significant advantages.
A better approach is giving employees the knowledge and tools to protect data no matter how they access it. Put another way, having a policy is the best policy.
When getting started in creating a BYO policy, SMB owners need ask themselves what’s really important to the organization. I’d go out on a limb and say that it’s not controlling an employee’s time at work that’s most critical. Rather, it’s ensuring that when an employee is no longer at the company, your assets aren’t going with them, or if they lose their device, your assets don’t vanish along with it.
Some basic items for inclusion in a BYO policy should include:
• Password-protection for devices. This is fairly standard with things like active sync.
• Identity management. The technology of centralized identity management is rapidly moving to the cloud, making data accessible in numerous ways – across multiple devices and apps -- without compromising security or user convenience.
• Remote wipe options. Think beyond the device level here. You need to protect access at the app-level. Most business-grade versions of today’s apps will have this functionality built-in.
• Education. Basically, think of IT less as a gatekeeper and more as a facilitator. That means helping users understand new applications, informing them about the risks and how to mitigate them, and guiding them toward secure solutions that work well for other people.
The bottom line? BYO isn’t going anywhere. By implementing a common-sense policy that encourages its best use, SMBs can maximize the benefits while minimizing risk.