Is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) a Good Idea for your Business?

It’s an eye-catching concept from the point of view of employers.

Bring your own device (BYOD) encourages employees to use their own phones or tablets to access work systems and data. One 2018 study showed that 31 per cent of businesses rely on workers to use personal devices. Fifty two per cent have a hybrid approach, with some team members using corporate phones and others their own devices.

Advocates suggest that increased productivity, and better recruitment and retention are all within reach by adopting this approach. Perhaps most significantly, BYOD businesses don’t need to shell out on phones, because their employees provide the kit.

Construction worker at work using her own mobile device
BYOD policies are appealing for both businesses and employees, but they are not without their drawbacks.

At this point, any business owner or IT manager with a reasonable dose of scepticism is probably asking: What’s the catch? And, yes, in our view, while there are some compelling arguments for BYOD, there are significant catches – and costs – you’ll want to consider before going down this route.

So, should your business join the BYOD ‘revolution’? Here are the pros and cons.

BYOD: the pros

Cost

BYOD shifts the device costs away from the business to the user. This is going to save money – possibly even considerable sums – when procuring technology, because organisations are not paying for the hardware.

Productivity

According to a report at forbes.com, using portable devices for work saves employees 50 minutes each day and increases productivity by 34%. Part of the reason for increased efficiency, according to IBM, is that if you are familiar with a device and like using it (highly likely with a device of your own choosing) you’re going to be more productive. Employees themselves back up these findings. Forbes says that 61 per cent of millennial workers think personal tools are more effective and productive than work ones. Individuals are also going to replace devices faster than businesses will replace whole fleets, meaning they are more likely to be holding the latest technology.

Employee retention and recruitment

BYOD brings businesses a lot of brownie points with employees and potential hires. According to professional services network Deloitte, 83% of skilled workers with access to flexible IT policies (including the option to bring their own device) are satisfied with their work. This is compared with 62% of those who are not enjoying flexible IT conditions. Meanwhile, 44% of jobseekers view an organisation more positively if it has a BYOD policy.

Some commentators have argued that, because smartphones are so ubiquitous now, trying to tell an employee which device to use is a bit like telling them which pen to use: it feels controlling and doesn’t go down well. It’s a compelling point.

Public services worker using own mobile device at work
BYOD can work well because people may have strong preferences on their choice of mobile phone.

BYOD: the cons

Security

How do you ensure employees follow safe security protocols as part of a BYOD policy? This happens to be the 16 million dollar question.

AN IDG survey revealed that more than half of 1600 senior IT managers, security and tech purchase decision-makers had reported serious violations of personal device use. Employees might be visiting risky sites, or using their device on unprotected public Wi-Fi networks at home or in public spaces. In either case, this could make them – and your company data – prey to hackers.

Other important security issues include:

  • Lost or stolen devices. Lost, stolen or misplaced devices could end up in the hands of criminals, putting your systems, data and business in jeopardy. This is particularly the case if users are left to set their own passwords (or not set them at all, as is so often the case)
  • Company leavers. Sometimes colleagues leave abruptly, which means you may not have time to wipe a device of corporate passwords and information – and they may be able to access sensitive information after they are gone
  • Not updating software. If your BYOD strategy makes users responsible for updating the software on their own phones, some people aren’t going to do it. Also, with most consumer phones only receiving security updates for three years, some will not be able to keep their phone secure even if they want to.

Moral and legal issues

BYOD opens up some tricky issues, blurring the boundaries in terms of responsibilities and work/personal time.

For instance, if your employee breaks their device do they bear the cost or do you? And if it is their responsibility, what if they say they can’t afford to get a new one?

Meanwhile, with a BYOD approach, can you ensure your employees’ personal time is not being infringed, or they are not being monitored when you have no right to be tracking their movements?

You’ll need to discuss proper terms with management, individual teams, legal and IT departments, with close scrutiny of any applicable employment laws. And don’t be one of those employers that kicks these issues into the long grass. According to one survey, only 39% of employers have a formal BYOD policy.

Lack of functionality / not fit for purpose

There’s one other crucial issue you’ll want to look at when considering a BYOD policy: will your teams’ own devices provide the functionality you need?

For instance, consumer devices are a world away from built-for-business rugged devices. The latter offers:

  • Greater durability. They will survive knocks and drops
  • Ingress protection from fluids and solids. Use them in the rain, no problem
  • Better battery functionality, to keep your people working for longer
  • More comprehensive and long-lasting support for software and hardware issues. (Can you really wait for an employee to sort that repair?)
  • Mobile device management. You can control and update many devices centrally
  • And many more benefits

We’ve written a detailed account of what makes a phone rugged here. Also, for a closer look at why consumer phones fail in enterprise environments, read this post.

We’d encourage you to look at them both as they are very pertinent to the BYOD story.

Construction worker using a consumer mobile device at work
Many businesses have BYOD policies, but are personal mobile devices fit for the work environment?

Conclusion

BYOD will work for some businesses. In our view, however, many of the flashier benefits will be tempered by the reality of putting employees’ own devices at the centre of your operations. The stark truth is that they will fail far more often than company-owned rugged devices – and that will cost you in terms of productivity and profits far more than any outlay on devices ever would.

You should also consider the potential cost of a data breach as a result of vulnerabilities caused by BYOD. The median cost of a breach for a small business (defined as 10-49 employees) is $13,125, according to The Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report 2021.

Use BYOD if you must, but safeguard your business by:

  • Ensuring devices are equipped with passcodes or fingerprint unlocking as mandatory, preferably including 2FA
  • Implementing a mobile device management solution that allows you to remotely wipe business data from employees' phones
  • Considering solutions that separate work and personal data on your employees' devices, such as Android work profiles, Samsung Knox or Google Workspace

Better still, consider purchasing or upgrading your own fleet of devices. You’ll bring more benefits to your organisation, experience fewer technical hitches or downtime, and your company will be more protected from the bad guys.

Find out more about the differences between consumer and enterprise-level devices in our white paper Consumer Vs Enterprise: Why choosing consumer devices for your business might cost you more than you think.