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Channel Curmudgeon: BYOD Isn’t Dead, But It Should Be

C.P. McGrowl, chief channel curmudgeon, tells us what he really thinks of IT being in charge of mobility policy.

January 22, 2018

6 Min Read


C.P. McGrowl

By C.P. McGrowl, Chief Channel Curmudgeon

As an industry, we’re great at inventing and then obsessing over non-issues. However, even within that brand of foolishness, nothing quite approaches the meaninglessness of BYOD. You know you’ve got a losing topic when the more you say about it, the less your staff and customers understand.

BYOD should never have come under the purview of IT, beyond weighing in on which ridiculously fragile $800 device is least likely to shatter when dropped in the parking lot. In most cases, it’s primarily a human-resources issue. In all cases, it should be a security issue; however, that message seems to have landed only with that select group of organizations with a recognized security exposure and regulations that compel them to actually cover their assets. That category certainly includes financial-services firms and government agencies. It should include organizations with HIPAA-compliance requirements, but I’ve seen such egregious mishandling of mobile security in the health-care vertical, I figure they missed the memo.

We’ll get back to the security fails in a moment.

From an HR perspective, handing an employee a company-paid smartphone with a data plan, or the cash equivalent, is a perk, a bonus, a freebie … whatever you want to call it, it’s a benefit of employment. Virtually all COPE or CORE or BYOD programs allow employees “reasonable personal use” on their company-provided or -paid phones. Sometimes, we even define “reasonable,” but I can’t ever recall an employee at my company or a customers’ getting called out as unreasonable. I suppose a few people got dinged for spending beaucoup time streaming Netflix on the company data plan, but HR kept it quiet.

And yet, when is the last time an employee expressed understanding that they’re getting a “bennie” here, never mind appreciation?

Look, BYOD came about for a number of different reasons, only some of them pertaining to the well-being of the employer. My theory is, IT wanted to maintain its status as the most annoying artifact of 1980s business management. Championing BYOD – sometimes using reverse psychology and crying about it in public – meant IT got to dictate that everyone had to stick with the corporate BlackBerry they were issued and that was that. The problem is that executives wanted iPhones, and if IT wasn’t hip enough to get that, they’d use their own. The cost didn’t bother them; they’re executives. Of course, the early versions of the iPhone didn’t have access to any mobility-management capabilities, but did we mention, executives?

Eventually, Good Technologies came along with a solution that, miraculously, made an iPhone an even worse option than a BlackBerry. IT rejoiced.

Unsurprisingly, once the masses had iPhones, executives got tired of IT having access to their personal data and the ability to nuke the vacation photos. Microsoft made it so everyone could get to their email, IT support or not. Ditto Google and documents. Enthusiasm for issuing devices waned. CFOs got the idea that they could drop this freebie, cut off the flow of unlimited data and save a lot of cash. What the heck, we could throw the user a stipend, say $50 per month, to compensate for them using their own phones for business and still come out ahead of the game.

Of course, once the HR folks found out that IT and the bean counters had conspired …

… to summarily nix a benefit that they’d been pitching to potential new hires, all hell broke loose.

Today’s reality is that most of your customers, and probably your own company, officially have BYOD programs while also continuing to provide company-paid devices just like they did before. It’s the worst of both worlds! IT departments have been forced to expand their device choices to include four or five iPhone versions and as many high-end Android devices. Users have the phones they want, and now, if they want to bring their own tablets to work to read their corporate email, great. IT doesn’t have to buy them an iPad. That’s a win, right?

No, it’s a mess. Your sales team has full contact info for your top customers in their personal phones. Customers in regulated verticals are one lost iPad from being fined out of existence. GDPR is going to add a whole other layer of misery, mark my words.

Stop the Madness

If you must have a BYOD program, you must also have a formal mobility policy. Ditto for customers, and this is one service offering it should be easy to sell.

A bunch of people have to be involved in developing that policy: HR, security, compliance or legal, labor relations if you’re equipping hourly personnel, and, though I hate to admit it, IT. HR should have the biggest say in whether a given firm’s hiring situation makes nixing an employee benefit an OK decision, or if you need to “ease the pain” by providing a stipend. Of course, if paying out money comes into the picture, we’d better get the guys who run the payroll system in on this post haste, and someone had better figure out if that stipend is taxable under the new 1,000-plus page tax law.

And information security is still a core responsibility. As we noted above, companies that are focused on security recognize the potential exposure inherent in users carting their own mini computers into the office and, ideally, apply compensating controls. I’m talking defining which device models and software versions are allowed; enforcing basic security requirements like strong device passwords; and, if you’re serious, selling (and using) mobile device management (MDM) systems that guarantee all those best practices are being followed.

Let’s look at the score now that the dust has settled: Some employees have the perk they had before, usually with a better choice of handsets. Some lost the perk and now have to use their own phones for work. Maybe the company throws a couple of 20s to ease the hit on data usage or help pay for unlimited talk and text. Companies that didn’t have any meaningful mobile security before BYOD still don’t have any. A few smart agents have programs to help customers pick up the pieces when a device is lost or a sales VP quits and takes the whole customer list, and her phone number, with her.

Glad we straightened that out.

C.P. McGrowl, chief channel curmudgeon, is a recurring feature on Channel Partners. Since 2018, a rotating cast of characters have used this space to vent about what’s sticking in their craw. The Channel Partners editorial staff pledges to protect the identity(s) of C.P. McGrowl, up to and including a night or two in jail on contempt of court charges. Heck, that would add to their journalist cred. Bring it, DOJ.

Got something to say? Email the editior, and tell her McGrowl sent you.

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