The BYOD debate is not over

The BYOD debate is not over

Given the imminent demise of phone subsidies and other factors, BYOD may well undergo a rebirth.

While a recent U.S.-based poll of 375 IT professionals showed the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) fad is fading, there's new evidence showing that BYOD still has plenty of life.

According to a new online poll, most workers use personal mobile phones for work tasks, often outside of work hours. Some 1,320 workers in the U.S., U.K. and Spain responded to the poll, conducted in May.

Respondents said there's widespread use of personal phones for work, including 61% of respondents in the U.S., 69% in Spain and 43% in the U.K. A headline by the poll's sponsor trumpeted: "BYOD: The new norm."

The poll was conducted via Survey Monkey and commissioned by Tyntec, a German vendor of virtual, cloud-based phone numbers to help BYOD along. With the Tyntec system, IT managers can assign a work phone number and a personal number to one employee's device, so they can separate work usage from personal usage when calculating reimbursements or to keep their personal data private. (Tyntec has competitors, including Line2.)

Tyntec's poll didn't find that many workers who perform work tasks on personal devices had a formal policy for BYOD in place. A formal BYOD policy was present in only 34% of the U.S.-based poll respondents, in 25% in Spain and 18% in the U.K.

Tyntec's poll also didn't ask whether a worker's company had a "no BYOD" policy in place, which is a separate, but related, question that was explored in the recent online poll of 375 U.S. IT professionals in private companies conducted by CompTIA.

Tyntec's poll doesn't directly contradict the CompTIA poll, since the questions weren't all the same. Still, the two polls show there are wide variations in thinking about the BYOD trend.

CompTIA, an IT trade organization, found in its April and May survey that 53% of IT respondents allowed no BYOD in their companies, up from 34% in 2013. No BYOD means the company provides smartphones and tablets to workers and bans use of personal devices for work.

In a report with the poll results, CompTIA commented that even when a company bans BYOD, "ambitious employees will find ways to utilize personal devices and applications even if they are forbidden." Tyntec's poll seems to have found that group of ambitious workers.

Meanwhile, analysts at Gartner last year predicted nearly half of all businesses will require workers to use a personal device for work by 2017. Gartner's position seems to be bolstered by the new Tyntec poll and undermined by the CompTIA poll.

Suffice it to say, it's still a matter of heated debate whether BYOD is gaining favor or not -- or is even a good business decision. Bob Egan, an analyst at Sepharim Group, said Thursday he's seen indicators for a long while that growth in BYOD is "more myth than matter."

Egan said overall IT spending trends don't show that companies are shifting device costs to their workers and said one reason is that the "real and perceived business risks to go BYOD are too big."

What Egan meant is that BYOD could result in employees losing corporate data on a personal device that could incur costly lawsuits and repairs.

Starting five years ago, some companies did go with BYOD in hopes of saving costs on devices and monthly network service costs. "Most companies that catapulted into BYOD in search of cost savings now feel like Wiley Coyote face-planted into a brick wall," Egan said.

One IT consultant familiar with BYOD policy deliberations within corporations said he expected to see a decline in corporate interest in BYOD until recently, when actions by U.S. wireless carriers to eliminate subsidies have encouraged business policies that could boost BYOD.

"I saw the [demise of BYOD] three years ago, but my recent experience has been shaken to the core and I think BYOD is going to have a rebirth," said the consultant, David Schofield, a partner in Network Sourcing Advisors, a firm that performs network audits and contract negotiations for companies seeking the best deals from carriers.

"I have clients with thousands of devices that are going to BYOD," he said.

Schofield explained that the latest trend with U.S. wireless carriers is to eliminate traditional carrier subsidies for the cost of a new smartphone and eliminate early termination fees, while lowering the monthly cost of voice, text and data.

Without that carrier subsidy, the upfront cost of a phone might go from $250 to as much as $800, he said. "Companies do not want to pay full price up front for a device," he said, so that may mean they will rely more on employees paying for, and working with, own devices.

"This is a very dangerous approach because ... it pushes enterprises into a straight consumer model," Schofield said. Many of Schofield's clients are moving to BYOD even though security risks and device management costs could be greater with BYOD. "The financial liability on the newest devices outweighs their risk comfort level," he said.

However one interprets the results of recent polls, the BYOD debate doesn't seem like it will be going away anytime soon.

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