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By Mike Herrington

“Bring your own device” (BYOD) is a big trend in business technology, and while it has several advantages, there are also some pretty serious challenges associated with it that should be considered before jumping on the bandwagon.

Let’s define BYOD a little bit. "Bring your own device" refers to a current technology trend where users are bringing their favorite devices to work. They want to be able to work from a phone, a tablet, their favorite laptop and many other connected devices. They also want to have access to all their work applications on these devices so that they can be productive anytime and anywhere.

There are several advantages for businesses that embrace BYOD:

• Employee satisfaction. Rather than being stuck with IT-issued devices, employees are a lot happier using the mobile devices they already prefer and love.

• Cost saving. There is some serious debate about it, but businesses that administer BYOD correctly can potentially save money. The most obvious savings come with the elimination of capital expenditure for buying new devices for the business.

• Enhanced productivity. Many businesses have found that their employees are more productive working on their favorite devices that they are familiar with.

• Work/life balance. Employees are more likely to work outside of the office and their responsiveness is increased when they have means to communicate at their fingertips. They can also be more likely to work from home or after hours to get things done.

There are also numerous drawbacks to consider when looking to see if BYOD is the right fit for your business:

• Cost savings. While there are potential savings in the initial purchase of the devices, there are also additional significant costs associated with BYOD. The ability to make line-of-business applications available on any device is rarely built-in. This frequently necessitates a significant increase in the cost for network infrastructure and support. Management and security of these devices also need to be considered and organizations frequently end up investing in mobile management tools. IT should also expect increased support costs associated with helping users gain access to company applications and data on their devices. These hidden costs mean that BYOD is rarely effective at delivering cost savings for an organization.

• Security. Perhaps an even larger drawback than cost is that security problems are inherent with BYOD. There are numerous security risks associated with having potentially sensitive company data on employees’ personal devices. What happens if the device is lost, stolen or infected? A company has much less control over devices it doesn’t own. Company-issued devices typically come with an acceptable-use policy, but it’s difficult to tell an employee how to acceptably use their own tablet or smartphone. Also, if an employee leaves the company, so does their device with all your data on it. It can sometimes be difficult to reclaim that data once it’s out of your control. There are also potential privacy issues that arise as well. Employees may not want the business to have access to their personal contacts, messages, etc. IT must work to protect the right to privacy while protecting company data — and that can be a delicate balance.

• Compliance. Any organization considering BYOD should also consider any compliance mandates they have that govern how they secure company data. Even if workers use their own devices, organizations must still be able to guarantee that they are meeting security compliance standards. If ignored, heavy fines can be levied in many industries if there is a breach.

Allowing employees to bring and work on their own devices has many advantages, but IT professionals and business owners need to be aware of the potentials costs and risks associated with it. While ease of use and improved productivity can be enticing, for many businesses the end does not justify the means.

Business owners should take steps to carefully examine the issue and work with qualified IT professionals to help them decide if this trend is right for their business.

Mike Herrington is vice president of sales for i.t.NOW, where he consults with business owners on IT solutions and strategy.