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BYOD: Head in the Cloud, Feet on the Ground
I have been a mute spectator (intentionally so sometimes also known as "listen-only mode") to a lot of corridor talk, post seminar/symposium chatter and some dinner conversations around how my CIO friends are ushering in Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and trying to get cloud-based applications and other cloud-based resources married as part of enterprise IT landscape. I am a big supporter and advocate of such a philosophy.
I am, however, very concerned about the manner in which this welcome approach and philosophy is being ushered into the corporate enterprise landscape and the manner in which implementations are being executed. There are some very grave risks associated with the immense benefits that this approach brings to your table.
One of the free bumper offers that usually accompanies BYOD is the complexity of device diversity. If one implements BYOD in its true spirit, then one has to cater to integrated enterprise apps to work seamlessly across all device types. Diversity presents itself both at the device OS layer and at the device form factor layer. Applications will need to address both these challenges coupled with the challenges of version control and management. God help us all, if BYOD device support were to eventually become part of IT facilities management and enterprise helpdesk support offerings!
As with any software, vulnerability of mobile operating systems will get exposed as its proliferation is increasing in the enterprises. This will usher in new business opportunities for security software vendors on the mobile landscape, very unlike the opportunities that exist today.
This will bring in the challenge of getting BYOD devices constantly updated for firmware and OS upgrades and updates. This will need to be ensured against the backdrop of the challenge that these are not corporate assets and employees have a choice of not to comply. Hence, I have deliberately avoided using the word mandate and stress on the word ensure.
The problem of device diversity and the device (device+firmware+OS) management can be effectively addressed by investing in mobile application delivery and mobile device management platform. These platforms deliver on manageability, maintenance and governance aspects for mobile application and the mobile infrastructure landscape. These platforms are anything but inexpensive.
Some CIOs might find, for their scale of rollout, the commercial benefits to bottom line from BYOD are either not significant or completely off-set by the investments required for implementing the platform. These platforms are not yet available as a service, and there is a possibility of such a business model evolving. One needs to evaluate BYOD benefits and associate ecosystem costs, in light of business benefits that will get delivered by virtue of business value creation. This model needs to be adopted not for saving cost but more to create and deliver business value benefits.
While the platform ensures that management, maintenance and governance challenges are effectively dealt with, the framework falls flat in the absence of employee participation. While the enterprise invests top dollars in such platforms, the enterprises need to ensure that there is enough interest generated to keep the employee invested. If the employee chooses not to participate in the process of upgrades and updates on firmware and OS, enterprise security could take a beating. The secret sauce here is finding the right levers that will keep the employee continuously invested in the process and the framework.
Enterprise governance and security frameworks will be put to severe test as employees leave the organization along with enterprise data on their mobile devices. Seamless and timely de-provisioning of user network and application accounts tightly integrated with employee exit process is still an issue which many Indian corporates haven't yet addressed effectively. BYOD will only add to this already complex problem.
An enterprise appstore, as a part of the IT Infrastructure, will only address part of the problem of application access de-provisioning. Having an appstore as a part of enterprise mobility brings other advantages on value creation front. Please refer to my earlier post titled Mobile: The Double-Eged Sword for more on this. An appstore just adds more to the investment dollars needed if one were to follow this approach.
I believe BYOD with cloud-based architecture for application and storage infrastructure can be big value driver, if one has insights into enterprise goals and needs and aligns mobility solutions to deliver the same. There will be significant investments needed to create a scalable, secure and manageable mobility infrastructure which could potentially wipe-out the bottom line savings BYOD might offer (depending on scale and complexity involved), BYOD will almost definitely succeed as any other initiatives, if it delivers on the goals of business value creation.