Bring Your Own Devices to Work Has a Dual Cost-Impact for Employers

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Ever since smartphones and laptops became prevalent in the workplace, and employees started bringing these devices with them to work, a paradigm shifted in the workplace. Flexibility in the workplace spurred a practice that, essentially, has been around since technology really started to become mobile and commonplace. However, it wasn’t until recently that the term “Bring Your Own Devices” (BYOD) became prevalent among enterprises.

BYOD refers to companies that allow workers to actually use their own devices for work purposes and not just as a distraction or for simple communication. Some companies allow employees to get a wide range of productivity tasks done with their own devices. They bring laptops, for instance, with Microsoft Office loaded onto them to work. Then, they use these laptops for a wide range of productivity tasks, like Powerpoint presentations, which they end up bringing to corporate events and presentations.

If you’re an employee at a high-tech firm, you may have noticed this shift occurring around you already. This trend is especially prevalent for those working at startups without large budgets who find themselves with limited resources and a crammed office space. Some companies take this even further and heavily rely on freelancers who work remotely, entirely on their own devices, from coffee shops and personal offices.

How do Employers Respond to the BYOD Trend?

For employers and managers, allowing employees to work from their own devices makes a lot of sense.  As workers work on smaller devices that they have often paid for out of their own pockets, companies save enormous amounts of space and infrastructure costs.

According to a report from the InternationalLawOffice, “BYOD presents several opportunities. The most obvious is the cost saving on capital investment in hardware.”

In addition to saving companies cost with up-front hardware per new hire, BYOD prevents many recurring costs of renewing and updating existing hardware since this is often done automatically with their own hardware or, as we will demonstrate below, the use of virtual machines.

How BYOD and Cloud Computing Go Hand-In-Hand

English: Cloud computing sample architecture
English: Cloud computing sample architecture

The BYOD trend can, in many ways, be compared to cloud computing. Public cloud computing services, like Amazon Web Services, offer infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) to users. Using IaaS saves companies costs and training time that would be required in setting up their own storage facilities and having IT personnel maintain them.

Unlike less than a decade ago, during in a time before virtualization and cloud computing became commonplace, employees today don’t even have to see a single server at their workplace, or have to sit in front of the hardware from which their company’s information originates. Today, information runs virtually from the cloud’s “virtual machines” which can be accessed from a variety of mobile devices, laptops, desktops, and gadgets.

According to Zdnet, “Public cloud Infrastructure as a Service refers to a virtual machine, storage and network which are presented in a cookie-cutter fashion to allow for on demand or self-service utility. The reason that it is called public is that your virtual machine will be collocated with lots of other virtual machines.”

You have to keep in mind that computers aren’t the only thing that companies need to run their businesses. As Zdnet pointed out, infrastructure also refers to networking hardware, like routers. Storage is another aspect that IaaS services house remotely. This benefits companies because storing information requires servers and facilities to house the servers.

How Virtualization of Machines Related to the BYOD Trend

IaaS and the BYOD trend go hand-in-hand when it comes to today’s workplace for many companies. Employees can use tablets with only 16GB of data to run complex applications and store the information remotely. An operating system can be set up remotely from a virtual machines while an employee sits in front of his or her laptop and accesses it along with other content. In this sense, the BYOD trend increases practicality and productivity by allowing employees to choose which device helps them feel the most comfortable working with and accessing the remote infrastructure.

There are also software-as-a-service (SaaS) services, like Google Docs, that offer users across devices the ability to get work done and share it through collaboration with others. This component of the BYOD trend enables collaboration through applications like Google Docs or TrackVia which are not tied to a single computer like the Microsoft Office suite is.

Despite Cost Benefits for Companies, IT Costs May Go Up As a Result of BYOD

Although, there are numerous cost-benefits related to employees bringing their own hardware to work, there are also some obvious downsides. Primarily, since there are so many gadgets, smartphones and mobile devices on the market, employers have to deal with this inconsistency and fragmentation. There are Android devices, iOS devices, Windows devices and they all come in a wide range of form factors. This sort of fragmentation sometimes results in software being incompatible with one device or another. Because of this, companies need to invest in regulations and possibly license software for operating systems and devices outside of the company’s main choice.

This sort of device management can lead to inevitable mounting costs as companies invest in more staff and protocol to handle mobile management software and security. According to a report from the RedmondDeveloper, this cost increases companies’ IT costs as a whole. Companies have to train IT staff with more tools to use at their disposal and have to hire more technicians. As they explained:

A report published this month by Osterman Research found that the need to manage smartphones that are either provided by the employee, or by the company, increases the number of IT support staff required for mobile device management (MDM). Researchers found that it took a median of 2.9 staff members to manage 1,000 smartphone users in 2011 and 3.6 staff members to do the same work in 2012. That number is expected to increase to 4.0 staff members by 2013.

This discrepancy between current relationships between IT and individual technological solutions (the consumerization of IT) is one that isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. As a result, mobile device management (MDM) is starting to be used by more companies as a way for companies to control and manage the BYOD trend. It is required for security, stability and software compatibility of devices to be up to the company standards.

The BYOD Trend Will Not Totally Replace the Need for Companies to Provide Infrastructure

BYOD aside, employees will still often need to rely on company infrastructure and software to get work done. Companies have the corporate budgets that enable employees to buy software and machines to run them which are often far more powerful than their own mobile devices. There are also operational system inconsistencies that employees and companies may run into as they begin bringing their own devices to work (for instance, the company may rely on Windows while the employee only has Mac laptops and software at home).

Conclusion

There are both upsides and downsides to the BYOD trend. From an employee’s perspective, bringing their own devices to work allows for freedom and flexibility. They may believe that they’re more productive on a certain device, like a tablet, compared to a desktop PC. Further, they may enjoy working on a particular operating system more than the one company computers have already installed.

From an employer’s standpoint, BYOD saves costs related to housing hardware, updating computers, and allows employees to even work while away from the desk. However, it also may increase IT costs and the need for secure management to make sure data isn’t compromised or leaked. One thing is for sure, BYOD as cloud computing, is here to stay and will continue to be a growing trend among a wide range of companies.