Mobile BYOD is not unbounded

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BYOD, or “bring your own device,” is an important topic in today’s discussion of mobile in the enterprise. Employees buy their own smartphones or tablets, love them, then bring them to work and want to use them to access company data, systems, and applications.

For the CIO, this represents an opportunity to save money by not having to pay for and provide devices, but opens up many questions about how to allow secure access and management of the enterprise portions of those devices. I’m here at the Lotusphere conference in Orlando, so it shouldn’t surprise you when I say that many of IBM’s customers are looking at Lotus Traveler for secure access to email, calendar, and contacts on mobile devices, for example.

BYOD does not mean that any employee can bring any device to the office and demand that it be allowed access to the company’s digital infrastructure. That said, if the CEO brings in his or her sexy new smartphone, the CIO may feel more inclined to make that work.

In practice, CIOs will say that certain devices running specific mobile operating system versions, augmented by security and management software and policies will be allowed access to the company’s network. That is, “bring your own device” really means “bring your own device as long as it is one of the following.”

Many enterprises already support Blackberrys, so that will be relatively easy. There’s not too much variation among Apple iPhones and iPads beyond the major version numbers. So while a 3g phone might work, I think many enterprises will insist on a 4 or 4s phone, probably running the latest version of iOS.

Android is more problematic because there are many handset providers and many versions of the operating system. Expect individual handset vendors to negotiate directly with CIOs to allow use of their devices in the CIOs’ companies, even if those devices are bought by the employees.

The wildcard here will be Windows Phone and the devices that support it. While Apple iOS and Android are very different, both technically and culturally, Windows Phone is different yet. While Mango is quite nice looking, as I saw from the Nokia team at Lotusphere, will individual purchasers and CIOs wait until Windows Phone 8? Will the rate of adoption allow it to be accepted into the enterprise any time in 2012 or might it even be 2014 before the demand is sufficient for supporting it inside companies?

My advice to CIOs is this: if you support Blackberrys, you will need to support them for the foreseeable future. The newer iPhone and iPads will need to be given enterprise access because of their marketshare and the demands of senior management. For Android, pick a couple of handset vendors, perhaps based on a survey of your current employee users, and settle on the level of the operating system you will support. Educate yourself about Windows Phone, but the above combinations are probably of more immediate and higher priority.

Also see: “10 predictions for enterprise mobile for 2012”