Will COPE save BYOD? Should it?

Carmi Levy is a well known Canadian journalist/analyst with a deserved reputation for offering commentary across a range of IT issues and technology opportunities. InsightaaS is pleased to welcome Carmi to the fold, and to present a first submission to our readers. In the article below, Carmi tackles BYOD with a 'coping' mechanism that strikes balance between device user and IT needs.

I’m just old enough to remember what it was like when IT’s word was God, before the bring-your-own-device revolution rewrote the look and feel of the professional technology landscape.

BBYOD (before-BYOD) was a scary time, indeed. Technology decision-makers decided who got what. It wasn’t always apparent why you got a recycled, generation-old laptop while your cubicle-neighbour was gifted with something that had been manufactured this century, or why some of us still toted beaten-up flip phones while others were given smartphones — albeit, with data capped and app store access disabled.

A sad history

It was an era where end-user needs didn’t much factor into the hardware equation. You got what you got, and you didn’t dare complain. Because if you did, there was always the dusty sharpener in the corner and a pile of fresh new pencils from the supply cabinet.

In the pre-BYOD world, employees couldn’t just head out to the big box electronics store and buy themselves a snazzy new machine. Well, they technically could, but hardware was a lot more expensive then than it is now. Even if they could afford it, they’d be stymied if they expected IT to hook them up to corporate infrastructure. The consumer and professional markets were still treated as distinct societies, never destined to meet, and IT used that harsh reality to maintain an iron grip for as long as it could.

But pricing and the app explosion has shifted the balance of power. As prices for technology fell, office workers could increasingly afford the latest gleaming devices from the local big box store. The shift toward mobility only accelerated the democratization of technology. It’s one thing to buy a desktop computer for the home office, and quite another to pick up a smartphone that will be in your pocket when you head to the office. Mobility emboldened employees to ask — and executives to demand — that IT connect their personally-purchased gear to corporate networks, applications and data. And even if they were still using scraped up corporate-issue hardware, they expected to be able to run their choice of applications and services on them.

It’s no wonder that BYOD became so extensive. Forrester estimates 53% of workers use their own devices for work. Gartner says by 2018, 70% of mobile professionals will use personally-owned smart devices for work, while IDC says 65% of the estimated 480 million smartphones expected to ship in 2016 will be BYOD.

Not so fast

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-d-render-ostrich-head-buried-ground-notebook-laptop-branded-dont-fear-byod-isolated-white-background-image30104368All this employee choice sounds great in theory, but giving end-users unfettered control of technology introduces costs and risks of its own. However you choose to look at it, the challenges are easy to see:

  • Soaring support costs as help desks and tier two and three professionals grapple with managing an influx of disparate — and often unfamiliar — devices, operating systems and apps.
  • Compromised security as personal and corporate data become intermingled on the same devices. To underscore this point, professionals in the US, Germany, South Korea and Australia contacted by ReadWrite and Intel said their top BYOD-related concern was security.
  • Gaps in security and data backup as IT struggles with an increasingly heterogeneous hardware and software environment.
  • Productivity impacts as employees try to collaborate using multiple, often incompatible apps and services.

A question of balance

Like a pendulum that swings too far to one side before eventually achieving some semblance of balance, BYOD’s first act was a perfect storm of extremes that, once it had finished breaking through IT’s once-sacrosanct ownership of corporate technology, introduced a rising wave of cost, risk and chaos that ripples to this day.

In fairness, there wasn't anything inherently wrong with BYOD, as at its core the trend addressed employees’ desire for more choice and greater comfort with the tools they needed to do their jobs — even at the cost of transferring investment responsibility from the company to the individual. But in the BYOD frenzy, a key issue for the business was neglected - the need to manage increasingly diverse and complex mixtures of devices, apps and services. The response, in many cases, has been too draconian: Gartner projects 20% of all BYOD programs will fail by 2016 because of overly heavy information security controls.

Fortunately, there’s a counterbalance. It’s called Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled, or COPE. As the name suggests, with COPE the company buys the hardware — so no more weekend trips to the big box store — but gives employees significantly more latitude to run their preferred apps and services, and to use the equipment personally as well as professionally. Rather than replacing BYOD outright, COPE complements it by reining in some of the excesses of BYOD while still delivering much of the choice and freedom employees wanted in the first place. Think of it as something of a hybrid that tries to bridge the gap and keep everyone happy without risking security compliance or driving support costs through the roof.

COPE gives IT more leeway in deploying and supporting mobile devices because there’s no tiptoeing around employee-owned equipment. In Europe, some countries have enacted legislation that bans companies from remotely deleting data on a personally-owned device. All this goes away when the company owns the device, which also makes crucial management activities like MDM, patching and data stewardship much more controllable. As regulatory requirements grow more stringent with time, this sense of balance will become ever more fundamental to IT mobile deployment and management best practice.

That sense of balance will also be key as organizations shift more of their IT resourcing toward mobile platforms. Forrester’s latest State of Enterprise Mobile Security report confirms 15% of employees have used non-work-sanctioned mobile devices to access customer data, non-public financial information and other sensitive content. In the same report, almost three-quarters (74%) of organizations say they’re planning to purchase, or have already purchased, smartphones for their employees. Another 74% say they’re doing the same for tablets.

With companies buying into the mobile wave like they once bought into the PC revolution, COPE stands as IT’s last, best hope to have its cake and eat it too. BYOD may be failing as a costly, risky example of too much of a good thing, but it is giving birth to a far more rational path in COPE.