The IT industry can usually be relied on to coin acronyms almost as quickly as it releases new products and it’s come up with the goods yet again for the latest technology trend to occupy CIOs’ minds: BYOD (bring your own device).
Since the very start of the year the volume around this development has been turned steadily up, but it’s been possible to interpret some signals among the noise. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that BYOD is a massive shift in how business uses technology.
Until very recently, the model worked as follows: employee joins company, IT department issues PC and approved software packages to run on the machine. BYOD turns this approach on its head: now, people expect to use their own smartphones or tablets to do their jobs. In some cases, they also expect to use apps unsanctioned by any IT department to carry out their work.
Ovum, an IT industry research company, found the trend is being driven in part by a ‘live to work’ culture among professionals in high-growth markets whose employers aren’t prepared to issue mobile devices.
It’s even finding its way into the higher levels of Government. In late June, the Department of Jobs issued a tender for mobile device management, a signpost that a BYOD move is in the offing.
The department is by no means embracing the trend fully: the tender covered 50 devices, out of a total staff headcount of 900. However, for a sector not usually renowned for being at the bleeding edge of technology, it’s yet another sign that BYOD is making its way into all types of organisations.
So what do Ireland’s IT leaders make of it all? Siliconrepublic.com’s ‘Five minute CIO’ series of interviews, launched during 2012, are as good a barometer as any. Overall, they found a mix of attitudes towards the trend: mainly positive, peppered with acceptance from some and outright scepticism from others.
Allianz Ireland CIO Karen Forte told us: “Once the corporate systems and data are protected through appropriate controls and policies to avoid contamination, leakage or loss from the personal activities of staff, then it makes sense to give staff the freedom to choose the device that makes them most productive at work and at home.”
John Shorten, technical director at TelecityGroup’s Irish operation, said it’s a trend “to be embraced, but with conditions”. Phillip Fischer at Aramark believes it’s a “distraction” but while he’s personally not in favour of the trend he acknowledges “the consumer has spoken”.
Niall Kelly of Netwatch took a harder line, calling the trend “a security nightmare”, while Greenstar’s Russell Gascoine took the point further: “Absolute nightmare today, but I like the idea.”
Rise of the users
What seems certain is that BYOD is here to stay. In February, Citrix was forecasting a 77pc increase in ‘bring your own’ policies over the next two years. In July, three out of 10 large Irish companies said they allow staff members to use their own devices at work.
By November, a survey from ComputerScope and O2 found 82pc of Irish IT professionals say staff are asking to use their own hardware at work.
While the argument for BYOD is mainly framed around end-user devices, the importance of backend systems was starkly highlighted in June when a problem occurred with the automated procedure that processes payments in batches into Ulster Bank accounts. Initially around 100,000 customers were affected by the disruption to salary transfers, direct debits and social welfare payments.
The fallout extended into July and well beyond. It led to calls by the Irish-based Innovation Value Institute for rigorous assessment of all banks’ IT systems. By November, the cost of the fix was estimated at €103m: a whopping €68m over what the bank had originally estimated.
While we’re on the subject of money difficulties, as we look to 2013 there’s no escaping the cloud hanging over the plans of many IT leaders – that’s the economical one rather than the technical kind. IDC’s annual Irish IT Trends and Expenditure Survey found more respondents expect to have lower budgets, compared to those who will have more money to spend in the coming 12 months.
Customers engaged in tightening purse strings are unlikely to have welcomed Microsoft’s response to the BYOD trend of upping its licensing fees for corporate customers by as much as 15pc.
The company hogged the headlines in October for the launch of Windows 8, a major upgrade to its flagship OS. In an exclusive interview, Microsoft’s international president Jean-Philippe Courtois called it the “inflection point” in the company’s change from software play to cloud and devices technology company.
A lot is riding on the execution. Courtois’ claim will be closely watched by observers, at a time when the software giant is beset on all sides by the onslaught of competitors. The world’s largest software company has a well-entrenched customer base among businesses, especially for its operating systems and productivity applications. Renewable energy player Mainstream, which is headquartered in Ireland, promptly announced it would be upgrading to Windows 8.
But with a slew of sexy devices on a variety of non-Microsoft platforms now catching the consumer’s eye, could BYOD prove to be the thin end of the wedge that cracks Windows’ dominance? Or will the Goliath slay a few Davids of its own? Next year may provide us with some answers.