Give and take, mostly give

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7 August 2013

I don’t know if I’m the first to say this but from where I’m sitting the whole BYOD phenomenon appears to share several attributes with a classic insurgency. Growing numbers of people demanding the right to use their personal devices instead of having corporate approved and purchased technology foisted upon them are mounting a guerrilla attack on the IT corporate establishment, threatening to undermine its very foundations.

The first response of the IT establishment was to try and prohibit or restrict usage of unauthorised devices but sending them underground did not deter people from trying to use them wherever they could. Now, elements of IT are starting to make soothing and supportive noises of the BYOD trend, although the bulk of them appear determined to have BYOD on their terms rather than the user’s. Again, this is a classic reaction to a successful insurgency where those in power seek to neutralise or blunt its purpose with a few small scale concessions.

The IT establishment is doing its best to protect all it has built up over the years in the face of an onslaught from something completely new that threatens to severely curtail its control. There are sound reasons why it should be concerned about the implications for the corporate network of allowing access from any device anywhere and at any time. And it’s natural that IT should seek to do whatever it needs to do to ensure the corporate infrastructure remains intact.

As with all revolutions, there are a number of far-sighted people in power who recognise the benefits BYOD could bring to the establishment and the people working in it. They are doing their best to lay the groundwork for a strategy that delivers those benefits, surging ahead where their contemporaries are stalling and foot-dragging. Some of those benefits may not be the same as the benefits workers identify with BYOD, but the fact employers and employees can see benefits in BYOD merely serves to reinforce the case for its adoption.

 

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Where the BYOD story diverges from the narrative of most insurgencies is in the way in which it still remains centred around the individual rather than the collective. There is no recognisable movement demanding BYOD, as such, more a motley collection of employees, swelling in number all the time, that are calling for the right to use the technology they like best to do their work more effectively. Of course, it’s clear that a phenomenon based on people seeking to use their preferred device cannot, by its nature, be a cohesive movement. You only have to look at the differences and disputes between people that own iPads, Samsung Galaxys and Windows tablets to realise IT’s task is further complicated by the diversity of opinions over what the best personal device is.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the BYOD trend is the anxiousness of employers to engage with the expectations of their future employees. A report from CompTIA makes the case that businesses seeking to recruit ‘millennials’ (people in the 20 to 34 age bracket) will need to do more to accommodate BYOD because a majority of them already use a personal device or app for work.

At a time when workers in other areas are having their pay cut, hours reduced, pensions slashed and benefits withdrawn or being forced onto zero hour contracts, it seems somewhat incongruous for employers to be showing so much flexibility to a particular sub-section of employees. But then, to return to the theme of insurgency, perhaps all we’re seeing with BYOD is the inevitable creation of a new privileged elite.

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