Global research and advisory firm, Forrester, recently released a report titled “Charting The Rising Tide of Bring-Your-Own Technology” (BYOT).  The report focuses on the trend and impact of employees using their own technology for work.  Certainly the trend of BYOT means Chief Information Officers of major companies must prepare how to best integrate and protect company systems and infrastructure.

When Blackberry was in its prime, many corporate companies issued a Blackberry mobile phone to employees. Everyone wanted one, as it symbolized status, especially the Blackberry Bold. But then the iPhone came along and it truly disrupted how corporate people communicate. It no longer segregated business and personal communication, but instead blurred the line and effectively made it into one in the same thing. In this generation, this is how people want to communicate and do business.  That is why employees are increasingly prepared to bring their own devices and software to work to optimize their work flow.  People no longer have to be chained to a desk to work; they can and often should have the freedom to work remotely depending on their work style preference. All they need is a mobile device with internet connection.

Based on a study of 9,912 information workers across 17 countries in Q4 2011, Forrester found that 53% of workforce employees bring their own technology for work purposes, up 5% from Q1 2011 and a reported 61% use their devices for both work and personal use. Technology encompasses personal devices such as tablets or smartphones, websites or internet based services. On the device front, just looking around offices or coffee shops, it’s clear to see workers using smartphones and tablets to present and consume information. On the internet based service side, the proliferation of cloud based services such as Dropbox for cloud storage or Evernote for document management make it easy to work from anywhere and anytime.

So if workers are using their own personal technology for work, does that mean it’s also a company expense? Forrester identified that “Increasingly, employees are making their own technology purchases for a blend of personal and work use and pushing their firms to purchase new technology to help in their jobs.” This trend in itself creates challenges for companies to account and reimburse for technology related costs. Before people used personal technology for work, it was clear what was and wasn’t a business expense. But now, how does a company objectively assess how much is business use and therefore how much should be reimbursed or paid for? Based on its research, Forrester found that Information Workers managed to convince their companies to pay for computer software, desktops and laptops, computer peripherals, smartphones, online services or website subscriptions, tablets, mobile apps, internet access and home phone and internet access. But since many are using such technology for personal use, 63% pay for their own smartphone and 51% for their own netbooks and tablets.

One of the major issues when using personal devices for work purposes is security and privacy. Imagine your employees storing confidential company information such as financial reports, budgets or new product features on their personal devices that can be easily transferred. Arguably it can happen just as easily with a simple USB drive. Companies must figure out how to safeguard confidential company information in the face of the increasing trend to use personal technology.

Another key issue is IT support and management. Companies traditionally have an IT department that deals only with company provided software and hardware issues. But as Forrester rightly points out, as employees use their own devices which span different operating systems such as iOS, Android or Windows; can the IT department scale its resources to handle the different systems? Or should it even be responsible, given that these devices are being heavily used for personal use as well?

Forrester reports that “Most CIOs are still fairly uninvolved with BYOT policies, with only 48% acting as the final decision-maker for IT priorities and only 46% holding decision-making power over IT purchases.” However the trend is virtually unstoppable and CIOs should instead prepare themselves to make new decisions, such as establishing flexible BYOT policies in the next 18 months. Moreover to combat the two key challenges stated above, CIOs must address information storage/security by moving to the cloud as well as build skills to support an expanding device and app menagerie.

Jason Lim

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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