Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, announced that it expects half of all employers to require employees to supply their own devices for business purposes by 2017. The concept, dubbed BYOD (bring your own device), is mostly limited to smartphones and tablets right now but Gartner expects the trend to include PCs in the future.

BYOD programs have been growing in popularity over the past several years but haven’t yet reached the proverbial tipping point. According to Gartner research, 38 percent of companies will stop providing their employees devices by 2016.  By 2017, this figure will jump to nearly 50 percent.

Bring your own device programs vary from company to company. Some companies offer employees a full reimbursement plan while others offer only a partial subsidy. Other companies don’t cover any of the device’s cost. Companies do typically pick up the service plan fees, though.

David Willis, Gartner vice president, explains, "The enterprise should subsidize only the service plan on a smartphone. What happens if you buy a device for an employee and they leave the job a month later? How are you going to settle up? Better to keep it simple. The employee owns the device, and the company helps to cover usage costs."

I first heard of the BYOD concept in 2009 when my husband began working for Cisco Systems. His previous employer provided him with a phone on his first day of work and that was that. With Cisco, he was able to go to the local wireless store and choose the phone that he wanted. So, I asked him what he considers the biggest benefit of a BYOD program to the employee.

“I think the primary benefit of BYOD for the employee is the ability to have a preferred type of laptop, phone, tablet or other device that he likes and also have access to company resources. Employees often had limited ability to customize and change their devices that were issued by employers in the past. Technology now gives the employee the ability to take his preferred device and use it to access his work environment where the company still controls the secure access to work resources and the user has the preferred device he wants to use.”

It is easy to see that the primary benefit to the employer is in terms of financial savings. While single device purchases aren’t large in comparison to each employee’s total cost (salary, benefits, etc.), these little costs do begin to add up. Eliminating device costs are an easy way for a company to cut back without having a major negative impact on employees.

Now on to the other side of the coin, the drawbacks of the program. According to my husband, “the largest drawback to BYOD from the employee perspective is that it blurs the line between a personal device and a work device, in my opinion. Employees should make sure they understand the company policy for the device when it's connected to the company network and the responsibilities of both parties once that device is considered a work device by the employer.”

On the business side of things security is the number one concern, which isn’t surprising. “The risk of data leakage on mobile platforms is particularly acute. Some mobile devices are designed to share data in the cloud and have no general purpose file system for applications to share, increasing the potential for data to be easily duplicated between applications and moved between applications and the cloud.” Source: Gartner

Transitioning mobile devices and tablets to a BYOD program makes sense but in my opinion, asking employees to provide their own personal computers is an entirely new ballgame. From the employee’s perspective, this is typically a larger expenditure than a mobile device and employees may not have the money for this upfront investment.  From the enterprise’s perspective, this opens up a whole new can of security worms. I’m definitely interested in seeing how the BYOD movement matures in the coming years.

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