The Unstoppable BYOD Trend

People love their mobile devices. Walk into a restaurant or coffee shop and it isn’t unusual to find a group of people sitting around a table typing on smartphones or tablets. Maybe they’re even talking to each other — through their devices.

So when employers ask employees to stop using personal mobile devices during working hours, one can imagine the backlash. A May 2013 survey from CTIA, a nonprofit wireless communication trade organization, found more often than not, employees use their own personal devices for work-related tasks — even when the company has a strict policy barring the practice.

Further, nearly 60 percent of respondents in a 2012 survey by consultancy Accenture said their satisfaction would likely rise if they were permitted to use their own devices and applications on the job — the trend known as BYOD, or bring your own device.

Talent Management spoke with Jeanne Harris, managing director of the Accenture Institute for High Performance, about the BYOD trend, the benefit for employers and how some of the risks can be avoided. Edited excerpts:

BYOD seems to be inevitable. What are some of its benefits, and how can HR develop a BYOD strategy?
Harris: One in four employees worldwide are already using their own personal devices, whether their organization approves of it or not. It’s inevitable, and I think it’s wise for any organization to get ahead of the curve and learn how they can embrace this phenomenon as opposed to trying to fight it.

We found that many employees are prepared to pay for their own technology, so you can look at it as an opportunity, where employees are actually willing to pick up a cost currently borne by their own organization. We’ve seen a number of strategies that organizations have adopted as part of a BYOD strategy.

For example, a very simple one is to put a password into your phone. There are new technologies coming from device centers that are going to make it easier to separate on the device a section devoted to the corporate side and the personal side. Then if you quit, or your device was lost or stolen, the corporation has the ability to remotely delete all that information from the device.

How are companies working around the data security risk?
Harris: If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would tell you that less than a third of the companies are developing comprehensive policies around the use of personal devices at work. Another third are simply prohibiting it and ignoring the fact that their employees are ignoring that prohibition, and one-third would just be unsure what to do.

Today, more companies recognize that they need to do a lot more behind the scenes on their technology — whether it’s risk management or data integration. One implication for the organization is the data needs to be much more integrated. It needs to be on a platform that is device independent. The third one needs to be data governance, data risk, so it’s about making sure that data is available. Initially many companies only make it available in one direction — the reporting kind of mode.

Different devices seem to have different capabilities. What kind of challenges does that pose for companies seeking to implement BYOD?
Harris: Well, certainly it’s going to cause real headaches for IT departments if they’re going to continue to rely on those legacy applications. The more modern, service-based applications and cloud-based applications are much easier to operate on a device-independent level. But there are still differences and nuances across the platforms, so it does continue to be a bit of a challenge. And it’s not just the challenge of “do you have an iPhone or do you have Android,” because there are multiple versions of the Android software out there.

That makes it a real challenge for an organization. If they want to be able to custom map, they have to be very careful they build across all those different devices. In the long run, it’s really going to push people faster toward the cloud and service solutions.

The benefit for employees is clear. What’s the BYOD benefit for employers?
Harris: There are actually quite a few benefits. One that may not have occurred to you is recruiting and retention of employees. Employees say this actually is a factor in choosing the company they join, particularly in very technical fields. The more educated and technical the position is, the more likely workers are going to say that this is a factor in their decision-making about what company they’ll go work for.

Definitely it has an impact on employee engagement and employee satisfaction with their job and retention. [Employees] tell us they believe it makes them more productive and especially more innovative. So that’s something that companies want to tap into. And then when you add in the fact that, from the company’s point of view, someone is willing to purchase their own technology — even if you give them a stipend — it actually results in cost savings for the organization because most people buy themselves much more powerful machines than the organization would be willing to buy for them.

What makes people believe they are more innovative with BYOD?
Harris: In 2011, 45 percent of workers told us they found their personal technology devices to be more useful than the ones provided at work, and that seemed to be associated to the fact that they had a more powerful, more modern device that had more flexibility in the applications they could use.

Interestingly enough, even in 2011, we found that regardless of whether there was a corporate policy against the use of BYOD or not, executives were more likely than lower-level employees to use their devices. And the people who violated the policy the most were IT executives. So realistically what we’re seeing is employees have reached a level of tech savvy that inevitably is going to clash with their organization’s perception of control.

Employees have grown frustrated when they’re prohibited from using these devices at work when they enhance their own life at home. That’s just going to continue to be the biggest test and opportunity in the next five years for all business and IT executives. I personally don’t think resisting is an option anymore.