Mileage may Vary: 5 Critical Things to Know about BYOD

If you are of my vintage, you may remember the old car ads from the 1970's that would create wanton lust for the latest iteration of two tons of steel, rubber and plastic from Detroit? Along with promises of freedom and admiration came the claim that this behemoth could subsist on a miniscule amount of gas. If you looked at the ad closely, you saw the simple disclaimer in micro font…'Mileage may vary.' In other words, don't hold your breath that you'll achieve anywhere near this fuel economy.

In my opinion, all the promises of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) are much like the car ad.  Lots of efficiency promises, but you can be sure that 'Mileage may vary.'  There are some things you could consider that would go a long way toward better results when you implement a BYOD project at your organization. Here are five of them.

1.      Surf the Tsunami.  The consumerization of technology is a well-established trend. It should not surprise you that your users are wanting choice of their devices in their corporate life, just like they have in the rest of their life. If you do not have a strategy in place, or are well on your way to implementation, you are seriously behind. As with other significant trends, IT leaders should be on the forefront 'surfing the wave' rather than being overwhelmed by it.

2.      Define the Rules of Engagement.  BYOD is not a free for all. It doesn't have to mean anything goes. It is about offering choice. Think of your favourite restaurant. You can't just order whatever you fancy, you select from the menu. Many IT leaders I've talked to have resisted BYOD because it's messy and unorganized. It doesn't have to be that way.

Just like your favourite restaurant, great IT leader have come up with choices and options that will satisfy most of their community. Set the expectations and benefits of the program up front.  Define the level of support your helpdesk will provide for these devices. Will you have a loaner program? What devices are not allowed?

3.      BYOD is More than Saving Money. If you approach BYOD as a way to offload costs onto your users you may be in for a disappointment in the results. (Many school boards I've seen seem to offer cost savings as a justification.) It won't be business as usual with users supplying the technology instead of the company. It's a whole new way to manage the flow of information in your organization.

You will need to invest in appropriate infrastructure and development to ensure you can continue to securely provide the right information, to the right people at the right time. Don't take on BYOD without looking at all the implications.

4.      What's Mine is Mine. When your user provides the technology, she has every right to expect that her personal apps and data will be on that phone right alongside your corporate data and applications. The design of your network has to be designed to segment personal and corporate use. This is a good time to be considering application virtualization, SaaS, and other ways to insulate and protect your organization's data.

You must also account for the fact that much of your software is licensed for corporate owned devices, not personal devices. Ensure you remain in compliance when you go to BYOD. 

You should also be prepared that people do not stay with an organization forever. What happens to your corporate information when they leave and do not have to turn in their computer / phone / tablet?

5.      Don't Leave Them on Their Own.  BYOD is not a 'set and forget' project. Might you be bothered that these BYOD devices are likely to be loaded up with DropBox, Google Drive or MS OneDrive, where your users may find it easy to quickly store corporate documents and data on these unsecure platforms? (Hint: They likely already are… but that's a different post).  You just can't make a rule and expect people to follow it. Remember the words of R. Buckminster Fuller, "you can't expect people to do the right thing. What you have to do is make the right thing the easiest thing to do."

By entering into a BYOD model, you must commit to the user experience if you want to retain control of your corporate data. At the end of the day you are still responsible for security, data integrity and compliance.  The difference is now you are now also competing for the 'ease of use' experience. This involves moving the management of all of this into the network layer rather than managing it at the device level.

Good luck on your BYOD project. I know that an IT environment that leverages BYOD is significantly different than your father's IT environment. But then so are the cars you buy. One thing has remained the same… mileage may vary.


  1. When you say to move the management of this into the network layer rather than managing this at the device level. What would you suggest if there are remote users utilizing web applications that are public facing such as webmail and a specific web application used to perform some job functions. Users can be issued company devices, but there is nothing stopping them from just using their personal machines to access these resources.

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