An Introduction to BYOD for IT Networks

Should you bring your own device to work?

Man on tablet in office
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BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) emerged some years ago as a change in the way organizations provided access to their computer networks. Traditionally the Information Technology (IT) department of a business or school would build closed networks that only the computers they owned could access. BYOD allows employees and students to also join their own computers, smartphones, and tablets to these more open networks.

The BYOD movement was triggered by the exploding popularity of smartphones and tablets along with lower costs of laptop computers. While previously dependent on organizations to issue them hardware for work, in many cases individuals now own devices that are plenty capable enough.

Goals of BYOD

BYOD can make students and employees more productive by enabling them to use the devices they prefer for work. Employees who previously needed to carry a company-issued cell phone and their own personal phone, for example, may be able to start carrying just one device instead. BYOD can also decrease the support costs of an IT department by reducing the need to purchase and depreciate device hardware. Of course, organizations also are looking to maintain sufficient security on their networks, while individuals want their personal privacy assured as well.

Technical Challenges of BYOD

The security configuration of IT networks must enable access to approved BYOD devices without allowing non-authorized devices to connect. When a person leaves an organization, the network access of their BYODs must be promptly revoked. Users may need to register their devices with IT and have special tracking software installed.

Security precautions for BYOD devices such as storage encryption must also be taken to protect any sensitive business data stored on BYOD hardware in the event of theft.

Additional effort to maintain device compatibility with network applications can also be expected with BYOD. A diverse mix of devices running different operating systems and software stacks will tend to expose more technical issues with business applications. These issues need to be solved, or else limits placed on what kinds of devices can qualify for BYOD, to avoid lost productivity in an organization.

Non-Technical Challenges of BYOD

BYOD can complicate online interactions between people. By making an organization’s network readily accessible at home and while traveling, people are encouraged to sign on and reach out to others at non-standard hours. The varying online habits of individuals make it difficult to predict whether someone will be looking for an answer to their email on Saturday morning, for example. Managers may be tempted to call employees who are at a doctor’s appointment or on vacation. In general, having the ability to ping others at all times can be too much of a good thing, encouraging people to become unnecessarily dependent on staying connected rather than solving their own problems.

The legal rights of individuals and organizations become intertwined with BYOD. For example, organizations may be able to confiscate personal devices that have been connected to their network if those are alleged to contain evidence in some legal action. As a solution, some have suggested keeping personal data off of devices being used as BYOD, although this eliminates the benefits of being able to use one device for both work and personal activities.

The true cost savings of BYOD can be debated. IT shops will spend less on equipment, but organizations in return are likely to spend more on things like

  • infrastructure upgrades e.g., authentication, encryption and network backup services for BYOD devices
  • phone bills - reimbursements to employees for their individual charges (on plans that don’t have corporate discounts)
  • training and support – in particular, fielding support calls and troubleshooting compatibility issues between BYOD devices and the organization’s network and software systems