Cow Chips

by Brian Katz on June 29, 2012 · 2 comments

Justin Pirie, Mark Thiele, Barb Darrow and I had great exchange on twitter a little more than a week and a half ago. It all stemmed from Barb’s excellent post. It addressed Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the fact that many IT departments were locking down phones and this was encouraging people to go around them. She had many comments that pointed to the fact that IT has been cutting their budgets every year and this led to an understaffed department that just didn’t have the time or the bandwidth to meet the user’s needs. The bigger issue is that this is only the tip of the iceberg and things are going to get worse, much worse.

There are a bunch of big issues surrounding BYOD but one of the biggest is very few people have their hands around it. They look at it from the simplistic side that someone owns a device and brings it into work. They can use it to access their stuff and be productive and they’re done. Nothing else to do, we can all go home or focus on another problem because how hard can BYOD…the strategy is in the name itself, no reason to over-complicate it. But there’s the rub, BYOD is much more complicated than people think initially at first. Most large businesses approach BYOD as a way to save money. I’ve already addressed that in another post, but it is almost assuredly likely that companies will spend more money on BYOD than they will save. The better question becomes, not how much they spent or that they saved but rather how much money they made due to mobile and BYOD programs. If it’s straight money spent vs money saved most companies lose that battle very quickly. On the other hand, if like the Coca Cola bottling, they see a 40% rise in revenue due to mobile initiatives they can finally figure out whether BYOD is worth it.

The business has to figure out the real reasons why they want to have a BYOD program. What are their business objectives, otherwise, how do they know that they have succeeded? Once the business has figured out the case for BYOD, they have to explain it to IT. IT doesn’t want to spend their time, which they have very little of, figuring it out. Usually by the time a BYOD program goes from the business to IT, which is now short staffed due to recent wage cutbacks or rebalancing, they only have a few weeks to figure it out and get it running properly. It’s not an easy thing to do and this leads to one of two things happening. They throw up their hands, say ‘what the heck’, and the program is started regardless of the consequences. Lots of stuff gets locked down through MDM or the like through this half-hasard approach and usually no one is happy. The other solution is to ignore it or say no and the business may quietly encourage people to do it anyway, creating a shadow IT situation but with users…

The irony here is that whether or not you have an ill defined BYOD program or a well thought out one, the trend of the users tends to follow Jevons paradox. As the users become more successful using their own devices while at the same time OEMs and Carriers keep reducing the prices of all these products, users start to have two, three and even four devices. They may start with an Android phone from HTC, and then an iPhone from Apple, then they bought the kindle fire for reading and of course have an iPod touch or a bargain basement tablet that was put on firesale by the web vendor.  They are going to want all these devices connected up as they were successful with the first one. Let’s ignore all the possible security issues that may arrive from these different devices and focus on the fact that there are now 4 devices for a single user, of which only 1 or 2 may be supported by IT, that are being used to access the corporate ecosystem. So not only does IT have to figure out how to support the new devices, they may need to buy licenses for these unplanned devices so they can be secured and managed by some sort of MDM/MAM/MIM solution. This ends up being more outflow from the cash perspective. As solutions become cheaper to buy and easier to set up for the user, they will flock to them in greater numbers.

This is where it becomes important to understand the business objectives behind the program in the first place. Without understanding them, BYOD has the distinct possibility of becoming a growing pile of steaming cow chips. Fun to throw around in a competition but not something that you want to really play with for any length of time. As BYOD evolves, business must evolve as well to make sure that they understand what they are achieving and then translate that over to a well funded IT that can evolve too.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Sussna June 29, 2012 at 11:45 am

I think we need to consider BYOD as part of a much larger trend that will ultimately dramatically change the nature of the enterprise. This trend includes BYOD, CoIT, coworking, outsourcing and dynamic workforces, cloud computing and SOA apotheosis, and changes in employee benefits. The very nature of the company-employee relationship is changing. IT departments are having to learn to treat employees as customers. Everything is becoming more loosely coupled, at the technology level and at the HR level. Even corporate architecture is changing, shifting away from dedicated offices and cubes. 

I don’t believe it’s a matter of whether companies “want” to have a BYOD policy or not. Rather it’s a matter of whether they want to proactively address fundamental workplace changes. Just as a SaaS vendor has to decide which platforms to support with their mobile app, so IT departments need to decide which platforms to support with their BYOD policy. In the loosely coupled enterprise, employees gain power and flexibility but also responsibility. If they decide to buy an obscure mobile device, they face the same lack of support from their IT department as they do from Facebook.


Swarna. June 30, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Completely agree with you on “define the objectives first to measure the success” here. It is surprising how many other IT projects are implemented with rather clear objectives than the BYOD one. As with any project/activity, we should have clear cut metrics to evaluate and identify success.

One of my recent readings include Simon’s Start With Why. And we should start *any* activity with that thought – “Why?”

BYOD is not just about enabling corporate access for *some* executives in an organization. Rather, it should be an encompassing strategy to support any, any, any mantra – corporate access on any device, by securing any application, anytime. And when enterprises comprehend the consequences of such enormous initiative, they WILL take the needed steps. We need more people like you – to educate and evangelize!

Thanks for the wonderful post with a very interesting title 🙂


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