April 25, 2013, 11:51 AM — Make no mistake: Companies, especially midmarket ones, face a sea change in how they operate when they take up the "Bring Your Own Device" banner. It's not simply letting employees use their personal smartphones, tablets and laptops for work.
"If you want to make the most of BYOD benefits, you're going to have to deal with challenges," says Alison Ruge, senior researcher in Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group. "You're going to have to make some internal changes, so that the weaknesses of BYOD don't overwhelm the positives."
Ruge's team conducted in-depth interviews with knowledge workers at 19 midmarket companies--those with 150 to 1,500 employees--and found that BYOD was taking root there. Why not? BYOD can quickly empower a small workforce. Employee-owned smartphones and tablets can lead to cost savings for resource-strapped companies scrutinizing every line item on the balance sheet.
The problem, though, is that midmarket companies often blindly adopt BYOD while failing to consider the impact it has on the workforce. Here are some of the pitfalls:
- BYOD can pressure midmarket companies to move to cloud computing--not an easy transition for companies with a small IT staff whose core competency is managing servers and laptops.
- Midmarket companies often adopt quick-and-easy legal BYOD policies that alienate workers, because they're written solely for the benefit of the corporation.
- BYOD can lead to a nomadic workforce that feels isolated from colleagues.
CIO.com talked with Ruge about BYOD challenges in the midmarket.
What's the biggest BYOD challenge for midmarket companies?
The midmarket space is very cost sensitive, yet also security conscious. They tend to not want employees to use things like SMS. They don't provide ways for employees to make the most of personal devices. While they appreciate the cost benefits of BYOD, they aren't leveraging the benefits.
For instance, smaller companies tend to go with on-premise solutions. But users are saying that remote access and the ability to capture into the cloud from mobile devices is going to provide tremendous efficiencies. What they really need are cloud-based solutions.
Going from on-premise to cloud-based isn't a natural migration. Companies have to dismiss their on-premise implementations and start over with cloud solutions. That's why many midmarket companies feel they have to go backward in order to go forward. Midmarket companies have such a small team with a limited set of core competencies that they don't have the bandwidth to do this migration.
But I think they'll eventually have to bite the bullet.
Will BYOD move companies to the cloud?
Yes, simply because the opportunistic, serendipitous and global nature of work means that being in the office and working with on-premise solutions wastes too much time. BYOD polices can really accelerate workflows.
That said, there are some real problems with BYOD policies and the way they're being implemented today. Midmarket companies, as well as enterprises, tend to write their policies in a very legalese way to protect the company. They're not really articulating what the policies mean in a day-to-day context for employees.
I asked people whether or not the company can see what they're doing on a personal device or wipe the device if it's lost. Every person I spoke to said, "I don't know." That should be unacceptable.
Employees need to know what they're responsible for and also be given clear insight into how they can work with their personal devices in a way that protects both the company and themselves. Employees should know how to do email, how to do backup, how to label things--whatever it might be.
Hiding behind legalese is not benefiting anyone. The decisions that are in play now tend to focus on the legal aspects of IT implementations and not on the cultural implications. There are lots of walls up, such as not being able to share files or see people's availability. While this may seem good on paper in the management suite, in reality this is causing a great deal of chaos, stress and difficulties for employees.
Midmarket companies haven't realized the need for someone in the organization to find out how people are working better and then documenting and evangelizing this in a larger scope. BYOD policies can be positively influenced by having someone dedicated in that role.
What's the danger with poor BYOD policies?
Midmarket companies know that employees are using all kinds of tools, but they just figure it's going to work itself out. Frankly, it's going to become an even more complex ecosystem of tools.
Companies don't know how to articulate, for instance, why employees should get off email. People use email because we're all familiar with it, but email breaks down constantly when trying to be collaborative with remote BYOD workers.
Lack of good collaboration can be a problem for a growing midmarket company. Look at Brooks' law, which basically says that every person you add to a project exponentially increases the time it takes for that project to achieve completion because of the amount of back-and-forth communication.
The larger a company gets, the more important it is to embrace systematic processes. Of all the pain points impacting companies in that 12 to 50 employee size, the biggest one is file management. At a certain point, you don't remember who created a piece of content.
The danger is that people are going to become more reactive in how they deal with their work day. The communication breakdowns and stress levels are going to go up.
How does BYOD lead to worker stress?
BYOD is driving workers to become more nomadic, taking their office with them wherever they go. BYOD encourages your workers to be more remote. It's the right thing to do, so that they can be out there in the field and opportunistic. Remote workers see less and less reasons to go into the office.
Yet BYOD workers told me that they're experiencing increasing stress, isolation and frustration. When they do go into the office, they make sure to meet with people in a group in front of a white board, in order to grapple with more complex issues. You're going to want to make your office environment supportive to group dynamics.
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What does this mean? You have to take a critical look at how you're using your office space. You have to assess whether cubicles that individuals sit in facing a monitor is the best use of their time in the office. Maybe the office space could be adding a lot more value if it was redesigned as group hubs with shared screen environments.
Companies should take the position: We love that you're being remote, but we'd also like to help you be productive when you do come into the office. In effect, this balances the strengths of BYOD and compensates for its weaknesses.
I advocate for immersive war rooms for teams in all company sizes. But midmarket companies are a bit more naïve, thinking that employees are going to figure it out.
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org