“Bring your own device” started out as a clever buzzword, but now it's something that a lot of people take for granted. In the tech journalism industry, there is a very public sense that the BYOD revolution is going to continue to keep happening until the idea of employees using their personal devices for work is practically universal. In recent years, including both 2013 and 2014, Gartner projected an eventual 50 percent rate for BYOD, and still continues to offer up indicators that the movement is growing, albeit while detailing some of the challenges.
Despite serious security concerns around BYOD, companies are definitely adopting these digital strategies at an enormous rate. Let's look at why this happens, and some of the most compelling reasons why executives feel they need to institute a BYOD approach.
Practicality and Cost Savings
One of the biggest reasons that some firms have gone with a “bring your own device” is because of the poor return on investment that they would get from buying work-specific devices for their teams. (Get more on the “hard” and “soft” ROI of BYOD from ComputerWorld, if you can brave the reg wall.) Most companies can't afford to throw away the competitive cost savings that they get from allowing employees to log in to the intranet and participate in work activities from their own phones and mobile devices. (BYOD can have costs of its own, though. Learn more in 3 BYOD Costs Companies Often Overlook.)
There is also a very practical aspect to the BYOD phenomenon, which leads us into the next and very important point – employees generally like to use their personal devices for work, rather than lugging around another work phone.
Ease-of-Use for Employees
When you talk about BYOD, you really have to include the idea of convenience for workers. Many of us have at one time or another had a job where we carried around two phones – our personal phone and another one temporarily assigned by the company. However, when we look back on these situations, it's unlikely that we pine for the days when we had multiple devices.
A second work phone often ends up stuck in a bag somewhere, or missing somewhere in the house. In addition, employees are likely to stow the work phone away as soon as they get home, which makes it a lot more ineffective from the company's standpoint.
Some people talk about “social buy-in for after-hours participation,” which, although it’s reviled by work/life experts, is also important to many workers who are part of a team. The idea is that with BYOD, workers are naturally incorporating work activities into their home life, rather than cutting off all communications as soon as they leave the office.
This is really a double-edged sword – and again, lots of counselors and personal life coaches would say that in some ways, BYOD really intrudes into people's lives. But again, in terms of practicality, having work-related communications on someone's personal device gives them more visibility into what's happening while they’re away – and a lot of people want that, because otherwise, they'll just have to deal with time-sensitive messages later anyway. Having a direct portal to work messages from a personal device allows someone to “be there for” their co-workers, which can be very important in any business where time-sensitive problems come up (and isn’t that most businesses?).
Specialized Applications and Software
Another major reason that companies tend to get on the BYOD bandwagon is that vendors are creating all sorts of neat new applications and platforms that are basically made to interact with people's personal smartphones.
One example is communications platforms like Slack, a trendy messaging program that's really taking off in the digital work world.
Another is workflow systems such as Basecamp or Trello that take a lot of the messaging chain out of email and put it into a unified dynamic real-time walled garden. Designers worked hard to make these apps mobile-friendly, BYOD advocates argue, so why not take advantage of that?
That's not to mention all sorts of other industry-specific applications that deliver sales data, or facilities information, or deal-related insights to individual employees all the time – a lot of these programs are designed to be platform agnostic in terms of device operating systems, so it makes sense that someone can use their personal iPhone, or a phone with Android, or some other device, and all end up in the same collaborative online workspace. (When employees use their own devices, it's important to use mobile application management. Learn more in Why Your Business Should Be Using Mobile Application Management.)
A Mobile World
Along with all of the above tangible benefits for companies that allow BYOD, there's another underlying idea about this type of practice that's related to how technology is changing our lives in a major way.
The developments of the last few decades have changed us from people who communicate at fixed stations and periodic intervals to people who communicate in many different ways, wherever we are, whenever someone has something to say to us.
To the younger crowd, this is the way it's always been. But even the rest of us can find it pretty difficult to remember a time when we only interacted with other people face-to-face, or at a landline telephone kiosk. Payphones are almost entirely gone from our national landscape, and household landlines are disappearing rapidly. But at this point, it's gone beyond mobile development, and into the ongoing tug-of-war between voice and data services.
So many people would rather text than talk – for one reason or another, digital text is taking over, and the telephone call as an institution is becoming a kind of quaint and old-fashioned luxury.
In this reality, BYOD is inevitable. It is something that's common-sense. It matches our idea of the ideal interface to our idea of what kinds of communication we prefer, and what's most convenient for our lives. It helps us to multitask in specific ways that most of us would rather not give up – and that's probably the biggest reason why businesses are putting all of their chips on BYOD. Maybe in the future, the interface will change – it won't be a smartphone anymore – maybe it will be a digital hologram projected on the user's arm, or a flexible little rollout mat. Whatever it is, it's pretty likely that we're going to use the same one for both business and leisure, rather than trying to keep two of them separate.