Between Windows and iOS, iPhones and Androids, tablets and Chromebooks, and a future that includes more IoT devices, a BYOD strategy can be challenging to implement.
With employee experience becoming increasingly important for organizations, IT has little choice but to provide the option of using the laptops, smartphones and operating systems employees choose.
That's why enterprises are leaning away from allowing employees to bring their own devices and toward a choose your own device (CYOD) strategy, according to Steve Brasen, research director at Enterprise Management Associates Inc. (EMA), a Boulder, Colo.-based enterprise research firm.
"It's been 11 years since the iPhone came out, and that kicked off this digital revolution," Brasen said, adding that mobile innovation in the last decade has caused a shift for IT admins, who used to worry about managing a PC or desktop.
Managing the complexity that a variety of devices and OSes brings to the enterprise is easier if employees choose the devices they use rather than bringing their own devices to the enterprise, he said.
"When we talk about devices, we try not to focus on ownership of the device as a core differentiator," Brasen said. "Most organizations purchase devices that are given to an end user and are permitted for use beyond business purposes."
Eleven years on, IT admins aren't just facing the challenge of managing a single device environment; today, it's multiple devices. In a 2018 EMA survey of enterprise business professionals, 90% of respondents reported that they use a laptop or desktop PC to perform job tasks, with more than 50% also using a mobile device for work purposes. Of the more than 50% of mobile device users, 91% reported using a smartphone, 34% a tablet and 26% both.
That complexity is only expected to grow. As IoT devices gain ground in the enterprise, IT admins will have to get creative with how they enable and secure a diverse device environment.
'I don't care who owns the device'
Indeed, the challenge for IT admins today is less about ownership and more about empowerment.
"As an IT administrator, I don't care who owns the device," Brasen said. "What I care about is how they're being used."
There are two ways IT admins can approach a CYOD strategy, according to Brasen. The first is providing an environment where employees can use their personal devices for business use. The second is creating an environment where employees can use work-issued devices for personal business.
Steve BrasenResearch director, Enterprise Management Associates
Either approach will present the same CYOD challenge to IT departments: How can they enable employees to get their work done regardless of the device they're working on? That can be difficult to facilitate without prohibiting employees from conducting personal tasks, according to Brasen.
"IT shouldn't limit a users' ability to access certain sites or apps, but it becomes a challenge if they put a device at risk by accessing malicious web services or compromise business apps or data," Brasen said.
Despite the challenges, enabling CYOD in the enterprise can increase employee productivity. In a 2018 survey on device choice and employee experience by Apple enterprise management company Jamf, 68% of the 580 enterprise organizations surveyed said employees reported being more productive when using the technology of their choice.
"You're allowing individuals to use the device they're comfortable with," said David Chou, an analyst at Constellation Research. "The challenge has been that the infrastructure has not been there to support BYOD."
Adding IoT to the mix
A middle ground for IT between device control and giving users free rein could be building a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), a virtual technology setup that hosts a desktop operating system on a centralized server.
VDI can provide separation between personal and business actions on devices, according to Chou. Employees can log into the virtual desktop on any internet-enabled device and access business applications and the operating system as if they were in the office. Rather than manage the devices, IT can manage the business operations virtually.
The ability to manage devices consistently with something like VDI is paramount for IT admins. According to the same 2018 survey from EMA, 75% of enterprise business professionals said it was either important or very important to them to be able to manage all of their devices in a consistent manner.
But it's not a cure-all. Virtual infrastructures work differently, depending on the device. While VDI can open up an organization's preferred OS to users, it can also be difficult to capture that capability on a smartphone, according to Brasen. Similarly, techniques like app wrapping work better for mobile devices than for PCs.
VDI, app wrapping or other forms of virtualization can satisfy both IT and the workforce, Brasen said. But not all IT departments are equipped to implement VDI or unified endpoint management (UEM) technology, which can secure and manage different devices in a connected, cohesive manner from a single point of access.
"The broad number of devices and OSes is challenging," Brasen said. "The vast majority of organizations typically have two different platforms: one for PCs and one for mobile devices. There's a growing awareness for UEM, but right now, it's the exception, not the rule."
UEM and VDI can help IT manage different devices, but a device management strategy cannot remain stagnant, Brasen said. Newer connected devices like IoT will continue to make supporting BYOD and CYOD a challenge. Unlike OSes, tablets and smartphones, IoT devices aren't standardized, making it difficult for IT admins to manage them.
"With IoT, every nonstandard device will be different," Brasen said. "These will bring different challenges to organizations than PC or mobile does. From my perspective, the industry is way behind the curve on this."
The importance of infrastructure
As organizations continue to grapple with device choice, another challenge IT admins will face is security. As choice becomes the norm, it will add continuous strain to enterprise infrastructure, according to Constellation Research's Chou.
"Not everyone has made the right investment to support that environment," Chou said. "This landscape has hundreds of thousands of applications and, sometimes, those don't work well in the VDI environment."
Still, an investment in UEM or VDI technology is one that enterprises will have to grapple with sooner rather than later, according to Chou.
"At the end of the day, we hate managing devices," Chou said. "With all the checking in and checking out and maintenance, it's just easier to manage a device of their choice and log into the corporate environment."