By Jan Willem Brands, VP & GM Collaboration Division at Barco.

For more than half a decade BYOD has consistently been referred to as a ‘growing trend’ or an ‘emerging area’ or ‘the next big thing’ in business. In the view of many companies who have successfully embraced BYOD, that trend has now become a norm, having been fully embraced to create a truly digital office environment.

Since the BYOD phrase was coined, there have been well-voiced doubts surrounding data security, disruption and compatibility in the workplace. However, the barriers to BYOD are slowly being removed as companies begin to realise the inherent benefits for both employees and the organisation itself. From office staff to CEOs, businesses are now reaping the rewards as BYOD has paved the way for more mobile and flexible working, improved opportunities for collaboration, and, ultimately, increased productivity.

A recent survey commissioned by Barco, carried out by Vanson Bourne, looked at just how prevalent BYOD has actually become and examined the driving force behind it among a hundred UK businesses with a minimum of 500 employees. Those surveyed said they already had a policy in place and the majority of those that didn’t, expected to see one implemented within the next two years. More than 40% of respondents also believed that a BYOD policy will provide them with an advantage over the competition, so it is easy to see why this approach is on the rise.

The emergence and subsequent popularity of BYOD lies in the simple fact that employees’ personal devices, whether laptops, smartphones or tablets, tend to be more technologically advanced and better quality than the employer’s technology. Outside of the workplace, individuals place more kudos on having the most up to date version of the latest devices as opposed to business-issued technology, restricted by tight budgets and the need for value for money investments.

When it comes to the main driving forces behind BYOD, there has been a marked pull from employees to get management to sanction it. In contrast, according to the Barco research, the senior decision makers do not appear especially proactive; the majority are said to be either indifferent or cautiously allowing BYOD experimentation. That leaves a notable contingent at management level that is doubtful of the benefits of this new way of working.

However, the advantages of BYOD can be realised throughout the whole of the office environment, and one area in which it has been most successful and brought significant benefits is in the meeting room. The connectivity options of tablets and smartphones make the devices perfect for meeting room collaboration and their potential goes well beyond what was offered by the PDA.

Perhaps what is most surprising is how long it has taken for these advantages to be realised, particularly considering the amount of time many business people spend in meeting rooms. When BYOD becomes part of the meeting room etiquette it has proven to be one of the best ways to make the meetings themselves far more effective and efficient.

The sharing of content stored across devices makes them useful for many different meeting scenarios, ranging from sales presentations, to training, to planning sessions. However, when meeting participants want to share that content stored from their devices it becomes a major challenge as the available technology is usually unwieldy or may not support their device. This would certainly be the case in a traditional meeting room technology set-up, which would generally comprise of a screen, a dedicated laptop or PC, and a host of cables, connectors and adaptors.

For smartphones and tablets, the difficulty in connecting to and getting content onto the shared screen is a major hindrance to overall efficiency of the meeting. Connecting laptops, via cables and connections, can be time consuming and problematic, even when devices are connected successfully machine settings must often be configured and screen resolution tweaked, which frequently requires the intervention of IT support staff. This all leads to a lot of time wastage prior to or during the meeting, and, in turn, is likely to have a negative impact upon productivity.

Many businesses have counteracted these challenges by introducing meeting room technology that easily allows smartphones, tablets and laptops to connect to a shared screen – either via wireless, or an app. However, for true collaboration it’s not enough just to be able to connect to a screen and share content. Many industries also require support for video and audio, but the real value lies in having the option for several people to share the screen at one time to make the meeting run far more efficiently.

It is a simple idea but rather more complex in practice because the technology must be capable of supporting different operating systems at the same time, including Android, Windows and iOS. Traditional meeting room technology may be able to support these in isolation but collaborating through devices using multiple operating systems requires a specialist bridging technology. Supporting multiple device types using different operating systems can make a workforce more flexible, more effective and more productive. It is therefore important to have supporting technologies in all of the company’s shared spaces – and ensure they are not being held back by technology limitations.

Evidently, BYOD looks like it is here to stay and it is no longer a case of if companies will choose to incorporate it into their normal working practices, but just a matter of when. Many businesses are embracing the benefits that BYOD can bring to their workplace, particularly in the meeting room, and the collaborative technology that supports it is now the next ‘emerging trend’.