BYOD- The Agreement

BYOD, Bring Your Own Device, is important, but it has its growing pains.

BYOD is, in a sense, a symmetric reflection of enterprise cloud computing. In cloud computing, the enterprise delegates the provision and maintenance of backend infrastructure to a cloud provider. In BYOD, the enterprise delegates the provision and maintenance of frontend infrastructure to its own employees. In both cloud and BYOD, the enterprise and its IT team loses some control.

BYOD has issues similar to the basic cloud computing and out-sourcing problem: how does an enterprise protect itself when it grants a third party substantial control of its business? For cloud, the third party is the cloud provider, for out-sourcing, it is the out-sourcer. For BYOD, it is the enterprise’s own employees.

Nevertheless, enterprises have responded to BYOD and cloud differently. When an enterprise decides to embark on a cloud implementation, it is both a technical and a business decision. On the technical side, engineers ask questions about supported architectures and interfaces, adequate capacities, availability, and the like. On the business side, managers examine billing rates and contracts, service level agreements, security issues and governance. Audits are performed, and future audits planned. Only after these rounds of due diligence are cloud contracts signed. Sometimes the commitments are made more casually, but best practice has become to treat cloud implementations with businesslike due diligence.

On the BYOD side, similar due diligence should occur, but the form of that due diligence has yet to shake out completely. A casual attitude is common. BYOD is a win on the balance sheet and cash flow statement and a spike in employee satisfaction. This enthusiasm for BYOD has meant that BYOD policy agreements, the equivalent of cloud contracts and service level agreements, are not as common as might be expected.

This is understandable. The issues are complex. BYOD becomes safer for the enterprise as the stringency of the BYOD policy increases. However, a stringent policy is not so attractive to employees. It can force them to purchase from a short list of acceptable devices with an equally short list of acceptable apps, accept arbitrary scans of their device, and even agree to arbitrary total reset of the device by the enterprise. With this kind of control, employees may not be so enthusiastic about BYOD. At the same time, privacy issues may arise and there is some speculation that some current hacking laws might prevent employers from intruding on employee devices.

There are also complex support issues. Must the employer replace or repair the employee’s device when the device is damaged on the employer’s premises while performing work for the employer? This situation is very similar to a cloud outage in which the consumer and provider contend over whether the cause was the consumer’s virtual load balancer or the provider’s infrastructure that caused the outage. In the cloud case, best practice is to have contracts and service level agreements that lay down the rules for resolving the conflict. BYOD needs the same. The challenge is to formulate agreements that benefit both the enterprise and the employee.

In my current book and in this blog, I talk about some of the complexity of BYOD, how it complicates and challenges IT management. BYOD is a challenge, but it does not have to be the tsunami.

Some key questions are

  • How much control does the enterprise retain over its data and processes?
  • What rights does the enterprise have to deal with breaches in integrity?
  • What responsibility does the enterprise have for the physical device owned by the employee?

There are reasonable answers for all these questions although they will vary from enterprise to enterprise. When the answers take the form of signed agreements between the enterprise and the employees, IT can begin to support BYOD realistically. Security can be checked and maintained, incidents can be dealt with, and break/fix decisions are not yelling matches or worse.

With reasonable agreements in place, BYOD support can get real. There is more to say about real, efficient BYOD support that I hope to discuss in the future.

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