Bring Your Own Device

The Gartner Symposium has attendees from a practically every sector: educational institutions, surgery emergency government agencies, help healthcare, ed insurance, finance, manufacturing, retail, etc…

That makes it interesting when we talk about a topic like Bring Your Own Device (or BYOD). Higher Education has been dealing with this issue for decades. In 1988, I came back to Penn State for my second year, brought an Amiga 500 with me, and plugged it into the network connection in Beaver Hall so I could connect to the university’s mainframe whenever I wanted. It was brilliant. The university had policies and procedures for doing what I was doing with my own device or I could use a computer lab or borrow a “dumb terminal” if I wanted to connect from my room, but didn’t have my own computer. In many ways, higher education must embrace a BYOD world since we simply don’t have the financial resources, support staff, or space to provide enough computer labs to support every student at every campus.

In addition, faculty have been branching out on their own for just as long. If they needed their own workstation, they went out and got it with research or departmental funds. This is one of the reasons that many universities have decentralized IT. Separate units were established to meet the specialized needs of local faculty.

In contrast to this, most other sectors are used to an environment where they have been seeing to the computing needs of their employees entirely. Now that we are entering the world of at least three devices per person (laptop/desktop, phone, and tablet) these other segments are beginning to ask whether they can continue to provide a one-size-fits-all solution or if they need to embrace the BYOD trend.

This is also a rising trend with university staff. If I’m away on a trip, I use my work-provided laptop for work that requires sustained attention. When I go to conference sessions, I use my work-provided iPad to take notes and pictures. However, I also use my personal phone between sessions to take other pictures, answer e-mail, and post on Yammer. The lines completely blur and since everything I am doing is cloud based, it doesn’t really matter which device I use for each of these aside from practical factors such as weight, keyboard design, screen size, battery life, and my overall preference.

This raising new questions about data management and security. It would be a problem if someone lost a device and exposed student information, credit card data, salary information, or critical research findings. Encryption, tracking, cloud-based backup, and remotely wiping devices becomes critically important. This is one reason that Mobile Device Management (MDM) companies were very visible during the IT Expo portion of the Symposium. It’s a booming business.

Companies that have implemented a BYOD program at work – where employees get a monthly reimbursement (between $40-$55/month) for using their own smart phones or tablets with data plans generally have about a 40% adoption rate and increased employee satisfaction. However, mandatory BYOD programs are generally perceived negatively, especially if they are seen as a way for companies to displace costs onto employees – “Bring Your Own Dollars”.

Getting back to students, higher education and K-12 are now dealing with questions about depending on BYOD. In other words, if we require students to have devices with them so they can respond to prompts during class, conduct research, or share data with each other, how do we ensure that all devices have equal access? What do we do with the segment of the student population who do not have access to the latest devices? One idea that came to mind was a donation or recycling program. I’m sure there are a lot of older iPhones floating around that could be repurposed as wifi-only access devices. Or maybe this is another rental program idea that could be taken on by bookstores.

Any way you cut it though, it seems that we are in a BYOD world where mandatory purchases of laptops or mobile devices with a specific specification are becoming old-fashioned.

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