CYOD: Balancing Uniform and Freeform?

Have you ever driven by a school where the students are in uniforms?

The rationale is that having students wear the same, pre-approved clothes lets the school control variables they see as disruptive to the school experience. The trade-off leaves students often feeling like their individuality and personal comfort is compromised.

If you have followed the trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in the enterprise arena at all, you’ll see where this is going.

If you go with a traditional model, businesses mandate and provide uniform hardware and software and can control security while ensuring a standardized user experience.

That changes quite a bit with BYOD: Employees are used to a wide array of devices and usually have a strong preference for what they utilize. They already know the ins-and-outs of the device, software and user interface and are much more comfortable and productive “in their own clothes,” so to speak.

CYOD pic

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A happy medium?

A third option is emerging: Choose Your Own Device, (or CYOD).

It seems a perfect half-and-half solution giving back some of the control to the IT department, making management easier and security policies more enforceable while also giving employees some choice.

A CYOD policy would see employees allowed to choose from a menu of company-owned (and configured) devices.

However, it involves a great many compromises, between user experience and security; IT management and user choice.

User (Employee) Experience

With BYOD, there isn’t a “standard” user experience. Some devices have overlapping apps and features while others are more proprietary, and the security features may differ. It can be a quagmire for an IT department to manage. Each device is wholly owned by the employee and personalized to the degree that user chooses.

The benefits lie in the possibility of happy employees

and the fact that other than IT costs, the company doesn’t have to foot the bill for the equipment. This makes more sense if employees work remotely all or part of the time.

The opposite extreme – giving everyone the same model of device with a standardized software suite – guarantees a uniform user experience, although employees may still have their gripes.

Suitability for business app use

Are the devices are suitable for business apps?

This is becoming less relevant as processing power increases and the BYOD trend circles back to device capabilities. Each platform wants to nail the mix of “work” and “play” capabilities, but a minimum standard has to be set.

Is the device capable of acceptable video conferencing? Is the interface conducive to creating and handling various forms of documentation? Can the materials be easily backed up and sent out?

Businesses typically start with iOS devices (iPhone/iPad) and work their way out when it comes to CYOD. The addition of an official Microsoft Office suite to the platform makes this more suitable for enterprise.

Adding Android as an acceptable platform is slightly more challenging because of the vast number of “Android” devices. Narrowing it down to, say, Samsung Galaxy devices, could simplify things.

Security, version control and regulation

Is it possible to have an acceptable layer of security over what is meant to be a mass-market device’s OS? Data leakage is a big issue.

Do apps “break” when frequent OS updates are pushed out? Are various versions compatible with each other? Unlike a PC or Mac, there can be many updates to a mobile OS within a single year.

What about regulation? Can a user back up a device on their home computer, and then essentially clone it to a new device after leaving it to a company, or can a company remotely “kill” the partition on a laptop pending termination, or have the apps and other features uninstall given a remote command without extending to personal data?

These questions should factor into whether a company wants to employ a BYOD scheme.

With CYOD, the devices return to the company, and since they’re company-owned, they can be configured appropriately.

Productivity gains and losses

With the adoption of iOS and Android as the two dominant mobile platforms, a wide range of entertainment apps began sitting side-by-side with productivity and enterprise programs. What’s to keep employees from watching movies or sports or playing games, and how can a company monitor that activity?

BYOD’s challenge here is that these devices belong to the employees. They know how to use these devices and use them for everything. Businesses are typically blind to the activity that occurs on an employee-owned mobile device.

Having a CYOD policy, while not a perfect solution, might be able to largely placate both sides.

You minimize the employee concerns of familiarity with a device and capabilities while addressing the company’s legitimate needs. Productivity and usage can be monitored, and people will likely be mindful that they are “on the clock” while utilizing a company device.

Is CYOD the best fit for your company?

Ultimately, BYOD isn’t going away. Some companies are pushing this outright while others are being dragged in kicking and screaming. Technology research firm Gartner predicts that by 2017, half of employers will require employees to supply their own devices.

CYOD co-opts the general idea of employee choice while returning a measure of control to businesses. Whether the cost of purchasing and maintaining these devices is worth it comes down to the company and what it feels is the right approach.

As employee expectations shift, companies can adapt and channel that energy or go with the old “uniform” approach.

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