10/07/2014

By Graham Opie, director, Vanson Bourne

Scarcely a day goes by without a new viewpoint on the Bring Your Device (BYOD) to work trend. Is it going to reshape the workplace, drive productivity, or redefine IT budgets as individual employees take control of how they access corporate IT resources?

Every day also seems to bring a different perspective on how real the BYOD trend is. Is it simply technology vendor hype, the reserve of the digital economy? Or is it a genuine paradigm shift that will create a truly flexible UK workforce and knock down boundaries between personal and corporate technology?

To explore this issue and to establish to what extent BYOD is having an impact on UK businesses, we surveyed senior IT personnel representing 100 UK enterprises with a minimum of 500 employees. Here are a few things we discovered.

Bring your own device has gained much more than a foothold at work, it’s becoming a normal part of daily business life. About half of the enterprises surveyed say that their staff are using their own mobile device for work, whether a BYOD policy is in place or not. One third (33%) of interviewees say they already have a list of devices that employees are permitted to use for work.

When we asked who is driving the BYOD trend, a remarkable 60% of interviewees say employees, while only 16% say senior managers are a strong proponent. Indeed, nearly half (47%) tell us that senior managers are ‘sceptical’ about BYOD strategies. So BYOD looks like a bottom-up revolution with senior management swept along towards an irreversible fait accompli.

The larger enterprises in the survey (3000+ employees) might have been expected to bring out the book of standards and processes to control they type of invasive, non-sanctioned technologies that BYOD implies, but they seem surprisingly opened-minded (or pragmatic) on the topic of how BYOD dovetails with corporate technology policy.

The survey shows that the larger enterprises have been quicker to embrace BYOD into corporate technology policy: a clear majority (58%) of them now has a BYOD policy, compared with just under half (46%) of those in the 500-3000 employee group. That said, the direction of travel for the enterprise market overall is clear; over half the enterprises surveyed (52%) have an agreed BYOD policy today with a remarkable 90%, overall, expecting to see one implemented within the next two years.

The larger enterprises also seem to be ahead of the BYOD game; nearly half of larger enterprises ‒ 42% ‒ are allowing BYOD development, appreciably ahead of the 32% of smaller enterprises doing so.

Why all this experimentation? It could be because UK companies want to empower their employees, or are being press-ganged into it, and give them the tools to be more productive. When we ask IT managers about the key benefit they expect from BYOD strategies, the majority of respondents mention employee productivity (71%) and better work-life balance (54%) but only 40% of interviewees say greater competitiveness and less than 40% see it as a way of reducing costs.

BYOD has begun to take hold in Britain’s workplaces and it’s tempting to see it as a large-scale test-drive of personal technologies in a corporate setting, that might just boost staff flexibility, productivity and engagement. The big question, though, is how far employers are going to trust employees when using their own devices on corporate networks.

Around half the organisations we interviewed reckon that employees are using their own personal devices for work purposes. In a separate survey, we asked employees about their use of social media during work hours. Around two-thirds (67%) say they spend up to 45 minutes every day accessing social networks via the company’s network. All these outcomes indicate that BYOD promotes a lowering of corporate barriers against non-work applications and a blurring of the line between work and private use of either company-owned devices or networks. Is this a new opportunity for digital marketers to target people at work, as they flip in and out of work and play on their work/personal screen?

Without doubt the ‘time and motion man’ of yesteryear would look very disparagingly at this lost 45 minutes of informal downtime. The reality, though, is that offering workforce flexibility through BYOD is a two-sided coin. The autonomy and self-determination it cedes to employees, underlined by the brand new regulations allowing employees to request fully flexible working, pick apart the traditional concept of the working day.

So what will be the new unit of work in the age of the flexible digiworker that is enjoying unprecedented flexibility of workplace, working day, company network access and even, down-time?