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BYOD: Save Money, Gain Productivity

iPhone 4S sales are off the charts, even with its battery issues. iPad sales are similar. Android now is the most popular operating system for mobile phones.

So why aren't you encouraging your employees to bring their own devices to work?

You'll save money. Gain productivity. At, quite literally, their expense.

That's because employees increasingly are expressing their preference for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, as opposed to Research in Motion BlackBerry devices and, to some degree, standard-issue Windows laptop computers.

They're buying the machines, out of their own pocket. Covering communications costs that you otherwise would be paying. From day one.

"You have users bringing these devices in the front door," said John Herrema, senior vice president of corporate strategy for mobile security firm Good Technology. "And what's interesting about these devices is, not only are they very capable, but the user can't walk out of the store with one of these things and not attach a data plan to it. And CIOs are starting to recognize that."

CIOs, as in chief information officers, rather than chief investment officers. But, either way, supporting this "bring your own device" movement gets its momentum from the return on investment that a company gets from it.

That is because it is almost all return and nearly no investment.

An employee buying an iPad2, for instance, pays anywhere from $499 to $699, plus tax and possibly shipping. Employer's out-of-pocket cost: Zip.

An employee buying an HTC EVO 4G Android smartphone will pay $400. That person will pay $50 or as much as $80 per month for a data plan. Employer's out-of-pocket cost: Zip.

Not surprisingly, financial services firms are among the biggest fans of this movement. In a recent survey of its 400 top customers, 29 of 40, or 72%, of the Good financial services customers who responded said they already were supporting a BYOD strategy.

Meaning: They were finding ways to encourage their employees to buy machines and data plans and incorporate them into their work.

According to Herrema, this can be as simple a plan as pledging an incentive of $20 or $30 a month-call it a "mobile productivity plan"-to help cover costs.

The company still avoids the upfront cost of $400 or more for the device and most of the cost of the data plan. In the employee's eyes, the $20 can be seen as either getting a discount on the data plan or helping pay off the cost of the machine, over time.

The biggest potential drawback of the BYOD movement is the prospect, in chief information officers' eyes, of opening up their networks to all kinds of mischief that might lie outside its control. Giving access to devices that have access to all parts of the Internet, without any controls, is not a viable option. That makes a corporate network vulnerable. Who knows what code might be "injected" into an internal network, if this front door is opened?

BlackBerry devices became the smartest phones for e-mail communications in the eyes of corporations worldwide because of the rock-hard security that RIM put in place. This has included such measures as support for password locks, the ability to remotely wipe out the contents in a device's memory when needed and use of the Advanced Encryption Standard, an algorithm used by U.S. government agencies to secure sensitive documents.

These and other practices are controlled through a BlackBerry Enterprise Server that gets installed in a company's communications network. Messages come in (and go out through) RIM's network operations center.

Good Technology is now taking a similar tack to devices that run Apple's mobile device operating system, known as iOS, or Google's Android operating system.

Its Good for Enterprise software and communications architecture "brings that level of security management and control, to IOS and Android," Herrema said.

Without even touching a user's device, IT administrators can lock down functions such as the camera, infrared port, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth features, control which applications users can access, dictate which applications must be running before allowing a secure connection, and, like with BlackBerry, remotely wipe clean the contents of a lost or stolen unit.

Perhaps as critically, the architecture provides more security than the kind of Virtual Private Network protocols that allow a user to create a "tunnel" through the Internet to a company's internal communications infrastructure.

That's because, Herrema said, the user who has brought his or her own device into that infrastructure does not communicate directly with it. Its e-mail or other messages as well as requests to access the Internet through the company's network go to Good's network operations center. Similarly, any output from a company server or other digital device does not go directly to the user. That output, too, goes to the meetpoint.