This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Business Agility, sponsored by IBM. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Business Agility site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

Origins of BYOD Suggest a Way Forward

The IT/consumerization clash is not just about mobile devices, and its roots go back decades.

The pressure that consumerization puts on IT departments is not just about mobile devices, and its roots go back decades. Looking at the history can help us get to solutions.

You may think that the desire of employees to bring their own devices to work began with the iPhone. You may think that BYOD is mainly a technical and policy challenge for the IT department. You would be not entirely correct on both counts. A deeper look into the origins of BYOD reveals a business and cultural gulf that has its roots in the middle of the previous century.

Galen Gruman, writing in, traces the history. The corporate culture typical of the 1950s was more hierarchical, structured, and top-down than what we know today, partly as a result of the influx of WW-II veterans into the workforce. Later decades saw an increasing emphasis on individual initiative and autonomy, first on an individual level in the 1960s and 1970s, and then on a corporate level in the 1980s as enterprises flattened and the old "career-for-life" model began to weaken.

From the 1980s, professional employees were increasingly expected to take personal control of their career direction, often including the training necessary to keep up with their field. They were also increasingly tasked with managing their own retirement funds.

In many organizations, the ideal knowledge worker was one with creativity and drive, one who took initiative, perhaps forming ad-hoc teams across organizational and geographical boundaries to get things done. This free-wheeling way of doing business caused friction with whatever remained of the command-and-control hierarchy from the "company man" era.

Legacy of Hierarchy

Today the legacy of hierarchy lives on mostly in operational departments such as legal, accounting, and HR, and often including IT. As one example, the policy in many IT departments of enforcing a uniform, standardized technology environment is an approach straight out of the command-and-control age, and it is getting more difficult to maintain in the face of a workforce that is accustomed to, and rewarded for, originality and independence. A more democratic management approach to the problem is called for.

"Whereas employees are told to act like adults when it comes to their retirement and skills, they're treated like babies when it comes to technology usage," as Gruman puts it. A more fruitful analogy would be to think of BYOD workers like teenagers who want to drive the car. No matter what obstacles you erect, they are going to drive the car. ("A recent IDC study shows that although 40 percent of IT decision makers say they let employees access corporate information from employee-owned devices, 70 percent of employees say they access corporate data that way," Gruman notes.) The best outcome results when teenagers are coached in the necessity for caution and safety.

Training and education are prime components of the advice Mark Helfin offered here in writing about how IT should approach the BYOD trend, especially as the trend is manifested in younger workers.

A Framework

PWC recently released a report containing a framework from which IT might best approach the consumerization issue:

  1. View requests for support of personal or departmental technology as an indication that there is an opportunity for better results.
  2. Promote the concept of shared ownership.
  3. Assume heterogeneity.
  4. View information systems as an onion.
  5. View control as a means to an end, not the end itself.
  6. Focus on intellectual assets first.

They're going to bring their iDevices, and use them from coffe shops. Help them to keep the devices, and the corporate data they contain and access, safe and secure.