BYOD, or no job, no device?

Research by Gartner suggests employees may be forced to buy their own IT. This may cause business more problems than it solves.

The trend to allow employees to use their own gadgets at work BYOD, or bring your own device shows no sign of slowing.

The latest research from Gartner, the analyst firm even suggests that close to half of firms could stop providing company-issued hardware, such as tablets and smartphones, within just three years. And BYOD, rather than being a concession to senior management with iPads, or Millenials with smartphones, will become a corporate norm.

By 2017, Gartner expects half of companies to require emploees to provide their own device at work

Gartner suggests that this is mostly to the good: BYOD is likely to encourage innovation in a way that conventional, corporate IT often cannot. The firm sees a much wider range of applications, including many that are currently part of corporate IT, moving to personal devices, including areas such as clocking on on site, and self-service HR systems.

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Firms, too, benefit from lower costs through BYOD, as rather than buy what can be expensive devices, they only need to pay employees' service plans, or perhaps even just the data element. As Gartner analyst David Willis points out, this gives both sides flexibility, and keeps things simple.

But look deeper at the Gartner research, and there is another, perhaps more worrying trend. By 2017, the firm expects half of companies to require emploees to provide their own device at work. And you don't need to be a trade unionist or employment lawyer to appreciate that there is a real difference between allow, and require.

Even now, by no means all companies cover, or help to cover, the cost of a device such as a smartphone or tablet. Gartner calculates that where firms re-imburse the running costs, such as voice and data plans, the mean subsidy is US$45 (35) a month, excluding international roaming costs. But the analysts calculate that the effective subsidy will fall to around $30 a month within two years. Gartner also expects the number of employees who receive no subsidy at all, to grow.

This raises the question of whether owning a smart device will become a job requirement, whether such a requirement is fair, and whether it is good for the business.

It is one thing to allow senior, and so well-paid, execs to buy their own devices, or even to allow IT staff or social media types, who tend to be early adopters, to choose.

Making owning a smart device a condition of employment looks less fair, and less practical, in areas such as field engineering, health care, or distribution, to give just a few examples. Then there is the cost of an unlocked device: the latest BlackBerry, for example, is more than 500 SIM free. And staff might not even be able to offset the cost against tax.

Then, as Gartner suggests, there is the prospect of extending BYOD to PCs. The firm found that for now, most of the few BYOD programmes that included PCs were for allowing the casual use of a second machine. Extending that to employees' main computers, with all the security and data privacy issues that raises, could still be a step too far.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.

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