What is IT consumerisation and why does it matter to employers?

Workplace technology is undergoing a shift. Organisations are increasingly moving away from the old model of purchasing and maintaining IT hardware, and are instead encouraging employees to buy and use their own devices for work.

This strategy – often called “bring your own” IT (BYO)  or IT consumerisation – looks set to be more widely adopted as organisations seek to make cost savings and benefit from the flexibility and employee engagement possibilities that arise from it.

The trend has already taken hold in some quarters, with 19% of global organisations surveyed by IDC in 2011 saying they already allow employees to use consumer devices to access business email and applications. “The days of telling someone they have to use a BlackBerry because that’s what the company provides are over, because the employee will just go and buy their own device,” says Crawford del Prete, IDC’s chief research officer.

The move towards consumerised IT is being driven by changes in the way we work, says Andrew Millard, senior director of marketing at Citrix Online. “Workers are now used to being connected all the time, and expect ‘anywhere, anytime’ access to the information they need to do their jobs,” adds Millard. “At the same time, you have people with iPhones and iPads that are tremendously easy to use, and they expect to be able to use them in the workplace.”

Certainly, consumerisation offers significant benefits for employers – if employees are using their own devices, companies do not need to buy them. Research conducted by Citrix Online found that companies typically saw a 30% increase in employee productivity.

quotemarksThe days of telling someone they have to use a BlackBerry because that’s what the company provides are over, because the employee will just go and buy their own device.”

Crawford del Prete,
IDC’s chief research officer

However, it isn’t simply a matter of giving employees free rein to use their personal laptops, smartphones and tablet computers to access business IT systems. Companies must develop effective security, management and HR policies before adopting the approach – and this could cancel out any cost saving achieved by not purchasing hardware, cautions Millard.

Companies can use a range of technologies to secure consumer devices, from authentication tokens that identify devices before allowing them to connect to corporate networks, to software that allows a device to be wiped in the event that it is lost or stolen. Software is also available that can effectively “split” a mobile device into two separate devices, allowing corporate data to be subject to the same controls and management as would be used on a company-owned device.

Using cloud services and web-based applications to provide access to business applications also means that sensitive data need never leave the security of the corporate network.

Global technology company Unisys is piloting a BYO scheme as part of its employee benefits package and security has been a top priority, says Patti Titus, vice-president and global chief security officer with the company.

Unisys requires employees to bring their devices into the office, and then installs a digital certificate on each device so it can be identified before it connects to the corporate network. In addition, employees are only able to access a small set of web-based applications through a secure web portal, so that no sensitive corporate data ever resides on the mobile device itself.

As a condition of being given this access, employees must agree to install a “remote wipe” application, which allows the IT department to completely erase all data on a device in the event that it gets lost. Employees should also agree to hand over their device at any time if the company needs it for audit, security or legal reasons.

And Unisys is not alone. Five years ago, the IT department at News International bought technology for employees based on corporate strategy and budget priorities. If an employee needed a piece of kit, the company bought, managed and supported it. Today, though, News International is also developing a BYO strategy.

quotemarksI think over the next three to five years, people will be accustomed to buying their own devices, and that burden will move away from the company.”

Paul Cheesbrough,
chief information officer at News International

Speaking at a conference earlier this year, Paul Cheesbrough, chief information officer at News International, explained why the organisation was keen to explore the new approach: “We’re keen to push BYO as part of the flexible benefits package offered to employees, allowing them to choose and buy their own devices,” he said. “I think over the next three to five years, people will be accustomed to buying their own devices, and that burden will move away from the company.”

It is vital that employers introduce specific policies before offering any kind of BYO scheme, says Millard. Most companies will have policies in place for remote and mobile working, but BYO adds some new questions to the mix – for example, who provides technical support when consumer devices are broken or not working? If the employee is responsible, is it a condition of the BYO scheme that employees purchase insurance and a support contract along with their device? Will the company reimburse hardware costs, network costs, call costs or none of these costs?

At Unisys, employees can use company-provided BlackBerry devices on a specific mobile network. However, with the BYO scheme, employees can buy their own device, running on any network. Because they own the device, they can run any other games, software or applications they choose on their device – but the company does not reimburse them for the cost of the device or their usage charges.

Some organisations, including Unisys, operate BYO schemes that rely on employees to cover the costs associated with devices they use in a personal capacity, while other companies may cover business call costs through expenses. In other cases, organisations offer an allowance equivalent to the internal budget for hardware, with restrictions that may only allow employees to upgrade every three or four years, or may require employees to repay the allowance on a pro-rata basis should they leave the organisation.

Offering this level of security and management means that, for most companies, consumerisation of IT probably will not offer significant cost savings, argues Titus, but she still believes that BYO is an inevitable next step for most organisations, and it offers compelling business benefits. “The thought that you can ignore this revolution, or just say no to your workforce, could mean a loss of revenue on one hand, and expose data to possible risks on the other,” she says. “The best approach is to embrace the trend and figure out how to protect your digital assets.”

For more information relating to this topic, see XpertHR’s policy and line manager briefing on homeworking. 

Top tips for consumerisation

Before embarking on a new policy that allows employees to use consumer devices for corporate applications, industry analyst IDC recommends that you:

  • Ensure you have in-house skills to support and manage these devices; or implement policies requiring employees to purchase support packages along with their devices.
  • Work with the IT department to secure critical data against hackers, viruses, identity thieves and other common consumer IT threats.
  • Consider who is responsible for replacing devices that are broken or lost – many companies invest in a bank of company devices that can be used to keep employees working if they leave their own device on a train, for example.
  • Prepare for a massive increase in mobile and remote working. It’s common to see a four-fold increase in network traffic when consumer device access is offered to employees.
  • Consider using mobile device management software that can effectively divide “corporate” from “personal” data on consumer IT devices.

Source: IDC.

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