The journey to BYO-Everything is shorter than you think

Credit:Phil Whitehouse via Flickr

The BYO (bring your own) phenomenon started with employees bringing their personal smartphones -- most often iPhones -- into the office and using them to accomplish work. In the five years since Apple introduced the App Store and Exchange support in iOS, the movement has grown exponentially to include other smartphones, tablets, and even PCs.

BYOD has given birth to a range of BYO revolutions. Some like BYOA (apps) are nearly as mature as BYOD. Others like BYOW (workplace) remain small movements that are increasingly gaining steam while some like BYOID (enterprise identity) are so new that they're still at the proof of concepts stage and it may be a couple of years before they break through into the mainstream (and might never reach widespread adoption).

As BYO grows, it is transforming the workplace around us in ways that have been seen in a generation. How far can such a movement go? Will we eventually see companies where the reality is BYOE (everything)?

It might seem too extreme for adoption beyond small businesses, freelancers, or startups, but major enterprise vendors are considering the possibility and are beginning to create options to support it.

VMWare's Horizon is designed to make BYOE possible. Microsoft's Windows To Go feature also furthers the concept as does Moka Five's abstraction approach that is similar to both Horizon and Windows To Go. You can even make the argument that cloud computing in general, and cloud-based productivity apps in particular, are BYOE solutions, as most services strive to be agonstic toward particular devices, networks, and location.

The real question isn't going to be whether a company can move to a BYOE model. It's going to be whether a company wants to move in that direction. Euse each organization has a different corporate culture and a different enterprise IT culture. Those cultures, which include the history and values of an organizations, will be the ultimate deciding factors when it comes to BYOE.

Rethinking the culture of "employer provides"

Although the notion of BYOE may seem new, it's really an extension an telework. Professionals that work from home, a coworking space, or any other flexible workspace tend to provide the bulk of their workplace needs -- from an office space to mobile devices to Internet access. In the process they also provide more basic needs like office furniture and electricity. Many provide their own PCs or equivalents like Chromebooks, Macs, or tablets with keyboard cases. The major area where teleworkers don't provide for themselves is in access to corporate data and enterprise applications.

Telework is often seen an option or perk. In that context, requiring an employee to provide all of those resources makes sense. They may have to cough up money to make working from home a viable option, but they're getting something valuable in the process -- the option to work wherever and however they choose.  

At the office, it's different. There, employers have generally been providing knowledge workers with tools -- PCs, standard software like Office, copiers and fax machines, filing cabinets, and supplies like paper and paper clips -- for generations. That has built a cultural value at most organizations that says that company will pick up the tab for anything you absolutely need in order to do your job, although though you may not get the tools you'd prefer or would personally choose.

But this value is not universally applied. Where workers travel between work sites or commute to an office, employers often expect them to use their own cars. Owning or having access to a reliable car is often a prerequisite in these cases. While the employer may reimburse workers for gas or mileage, they don't typically pay for the car itself.

This raises a big question: How or why is requiring a worker to own a car for a given job different from expecting them to own or provide their own PC? The same argument can be applied to mobile devices. How and why is it different to require or encourage an employee to own and use a smartphone or tablet but not to expect them to provide their own PC?

Each company might answer those questions differently. Some might not even be able to give a better response than "this is they way it's always been done."

The truth is that there is a value (and cost) that an organization places on everything it provides or expects its workers to provide. That sense of value versus cost also applies to intangible things like work hours, office selection and decor, how and when raises are issued, the choice of health plans offered to workers, and just about everything else. All those values are the building blocks of corporate culture.

Enterprise IT values and culture

A corporate culture often defines values and costs in general terms. When it comes to technology -- PCs, software, mobile devices and apps, infrastructure -- the conversation becomes much more tangible and it's the culture of the IT team that sets most of the rules. For all the talk of getting rid of the IT department, IT fulfills critical roles in almost any organization.

  • IT provides, configures, and maintains the technology infrastructure.
  • IT ensures that any corporate data is secured and that data and systems can be recovered in the event of a disaster.
  • IT resolves technical problems with the infrastructure, PCs, software, or devices within a company.

Historically, IT has also been in charge of selecting and setting up the technology within an organization that workers use -- PCs, software, user accounts, and so on. To simplify these processes, IT leaders often choose to standardize around specific manufacturers and software producers. This role has allowed IT, overtly or abstractly, to define part of the overall corporate culture and to propagate the values and priorities of the IT leaders.

Moving to a BYOE world reduces IT's influence on the overall culture, but it doesn't remove IT completely from the company. Someone will still need to maintain the infrastructure, take point on security, and fix things that are company-owned or managed. IT may have a diminished role, or may have to change to focus more on business priorities and strategy and less on the pure technology side. 

Getting to BYOE

It's hard to picture any establishing company moving to BYOE overnight.

BYOD was a starting point. The BYO initiatives beyond it are stepping stones leading in BYOE's direction. But based on how quickly and thoroughly mobility and BYOD have reshaped the corporate landscape in just a few years, BYOE is not far off as it might seem.

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