By Simon Bain, Founder and CTO, Simplexo
There is a great deal of talk about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and a lot of statistics suggesting that it is a huge phenomenon taking place across the corporate world. Redshift Research, in a report it delivered for Cisco, tells us that “95 percent of organizations allow employee-owned devices in some way, shape or form in the workplace” with 84 percent of these saying that they provide support for these devices.
However, most instances of BYOD currently relate to people’s use of their own smartphones to connect to the Internet or email to access company documents. Five years ago people simply had two mobile phones – one personal and one issued by work. Today, these two devices have merged into one.
However, remote access to office files using personal devices is not really the issue. What has really got IT decision-makers excited is their increasing difficulty to be able to track company data and understand what is happening to it outside of the enterprise environment.
BYOD is not the problem, cloud storage is. It is now very simple for employees to store documents, for free, using any number of file storage providers such as Dropbox or Google drive. There is also an increasing number of applications that can be downloaded that help with office work. Where data is stored and how securely within these applications is often a mystery. In either case, once out of the enterprise IT environment it becomes impossible for CIOs to know where company data is or who has access to it.
However, it is not just technology, but rather the changing relationship we are having with it as a society that is the real driver of change. For the first time, IT decision-makers are no longer in charge of how IT is used in organizations.
Very quickly, we have all got used to being able to easily choose from a limitless supply of applications in our personal lives, all at little or no cost. This is the antithesis to the corporate environment, which has deployed software and services in a top-down and inflexible manner, giving employees little or no choice. This new and growing consumer-based culture allows for IT services to grow organically to meet the ever-changing demands of the enterprise. So on one level this is all very good news. However, the result is that those entrusted with responsibility for IT have a growing lack of control over data and how it is used.
The fact is, IT departments are never going to be able to compete with the simplicity and ease-of-use that comes from having an instantly downloadable application. This needs to be accepted by enterprise organizations at the earliest possible opportunity as it is only in doing so that they will be able to change their own worldview and work with the new consumer-led culture of IT deployment that is growing at an ever-increasing pace.
I expect to see an explosion in enterprise-grade applications in the next 18 months as the market recognizes the growth in demand from enterprise organizations and IT decision-makers recognize that they need to give their staff a choice of technology within controlled environments.
We could well see, for example, enterprises partnering with third-party app stores that only allow applications that keep data in a recognized and controlled environment. Employees will benefit from having access to a shopping cart of applications to choose from and IT departments will know that they have tight service level agreements with providers detailing required security and data locations. Developers will have clear instructions as to what data security and other hoops that they need to jump through to have access to the market created by the third-party app provider. This is just one possible outcome of many in what is a rapidly changing and volatile market.
Such paradigm shifts will not be an easy process for many organizations. Staff will still complain that the tools they really want to use sit outside any secure environment and will be tempted to use them. The trick will be to have both sticks and carrots - firm and enforceable data control policies and a never-ending search for the best range of applications to meet changing demands.
Cloud computing has been spoken of as the most revolutionary thing to happen in IT for a generation. However, this is only true for the IT department. The most visible revolution is just around the corner as employees take full control of how they use technology to meet their daily needs in work. BYOD smartphones are just the tip of the iceberg.
About the Author: Simon Bain is the founder and CTO of Simplexo Ltd's software solutions and is a highly respected figure in the structured markup industry and a frequent spokesman on XML applications.