BYOD is as entrenched (and complicated) as ever

But companies might not save as much as expected by pushing hardware costs off to employees

The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend has been around for years in US workplaces and even though it's become a fixture at many companies, some IT shops are still coming to grips with it.

In hard numbers, the prevalence of BYOD in the workplace is difficult to measure. Researchers offer a wide variety of statistics.

Research firm Strategy Analytics, for example, said three-quarters of business smartphones and tablets shipped in the second quarter in North America were slated to wind up in the workplace -- either bought by businesses outright for their workers or by people who planned to use them in the office.

However, another research firm, J. Gold Associates, found in its latest annual survey of large businesses that just 15% of those businesses had a majority of their employees use their own devices for work purposes.

Such wide variations likely occur because some companies reimburse workers for buying their own smartphone or tablet to use at work, and even pay part or all of a monthly wireless service charge. Other companies expect a BYOD worker to pay for it all, while offering back-end support for company apps used on the devices.

At the heart of the BYOD trend is the distinction between "personally liable" devices -- those brought in from home by workers -- and "corporate liable" hardware, where a company owns a smartphone or tablet provided for a worker's use, with the company usually paying all costs. Corporate liable practices have evolved in recent years to include a choose-your-own-device (CYOD) model where a business allows workers to select from a list of specified devices for business use, primarily to give IT shops more control over hardware and data.

Further complicating matters: A California court ruling that requires companies to reimburse employees for work-related use of their own personal devices. It remains unclear how far-reaching that decision could be.

"We see BYOD going on a long time, and now CYOD has emerged," Strategy Analytics analyst Phil Hochmuth said in an interview. "BYOD has even leaked into the regulated industries like banks, which is the last bastion."

Banks, facing stiff federal regulations in the U.S., have traditionally relied on a corporate-liable model to better control the specific smartphones or tablets used, as well as the apps running on them. Under that system, workers are usually not permitted to use any personal apps or do any work on the devices outside of work. The main intent is to keep sensitive corporate data from leaking out over personal email or other pathways.

Given that tradition by banks, Hochmuth said it is interesting that J.P. Morgan Chase is apparently dropping support for BlackBerry devices and mandating that some employees pay for their own devices, BlackBerry or otherwise. The shift would save the bank tens of millions of dollars.

Both BlackBerry and J.P. Morgan did not comment on the report, although the device maker has recently touted growing interest by various banks and governments in its latest BlackBerry Enterprise Server management products, which can support devices running on several different operating systems.

"The report about J.P. Morgan was so interesting because it's the type of company that has always followed that model of corporate liable," Hochmuth said. "You are seeing BYOD reach down to the regulated industries."

Even if the rate of actual BYOD usage is much lower than 75% in the U.S., Hochmuth said it is decidedly widespread.

"BYOD is the norm," he said. "Companies are getting out of the business of buying phones. Enterprises just don't want to do that anymore. It makes sense for companies to have plans to give stipends to workers for service or to transfer the phone number to the company" for the company to pay the bill.

On the other hand, software management costs and other costs to support BYOD can be unexpected.

"When workers bring in new phones, you don't have the IT department to test the phone and there could be hidden costs and more support calls and IT help desk tickets. Suddenly, you may have everybody submitting an expense report for phones and service, which is an added cost," Hochmuth said. "With corporate liable, it was preconfigured and set up. "

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said J.P. Morgan or any company switching to BYOD faces potential support costs. "I'm not sure how J.P. Morgan would figure it can save millions," by dropping BlackBerry, Gold said. "If they assume they saved due to making users buy their own devices, how do they equate that to the increased cost of support?"

Gold added that in his consulting with businesses, "we are seeing a pullback in BYOD at many companies. The cost savings they predicted by letting everyone buy and provision their own devices are not there. Managing all the diversity of devices can be overwhelming to IT and the help desk."

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, has been consulting with IT shops for nearly a decade on whether to go BYOD or not. "Ultimately, we don't believe that full BYOD or full CYOD is the right method. Both need to be used in conjunction with each other."

Dulaney said one reason Gartner recommends both approaches is so IT won't be required to deliver the latest and greatest device to a worker. "They should have whatever gets the job done at the lowest possible cost, and that might be a phone that is two generations back," he said.

As for J.P. Morgan, Dulaney said management there "may be making sure that people who need a phone have one and removing company compensation from those who don't," since it is clear that the bank will still be paying for some workers' phones and service plans.

"We don't agree with a full BYOD program and feel it may not really save money," Dulaney added. "A combination of CYOD and BYOD is preferred."

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