No matter what industry your business is in, you have probably noticed your colleagues using a dizzying array of mobile devices, including smart phones, tablet computers and more. In fact, you probably use one of those devices yourself.
Increasingly, staff are refusing to wait for employers to sanction, purchase and distribute mobile technology. Instead, many are using their personal devices for work. This trend has been dubbed 'the consumerisation of IT' or 'bring your own device' (BYOD).
With more than 302 million smartphones shipped worldwide in 2010 and a healthy 19% annual growth rate predicted until 2016, BYOD should continue to grow, fuelled by the continuing introduction of new tablets, smart phones and mobile apps.
But should your business encourage this blurring of the lines between business and personal use?
The benefits of BYOD
Embracing BYOD can certainly bring benefits. Encouraging employees to use their own smart phones may enable them to access communications and information on demand.
Mobilised employees often respond to email after hours, in effect extending their workday. And if you can make company data – like files or documents - available through mobile apps then you'll save people considerable time and effort.
"The on-demand aspect of mobility means that as you need access to information within your company, it's right there via your smartphone or tablet," says Tiffany Benson, SMB mobility marketing senior consultant at Dell. "The mobile device is a central point for all your information and activities."
The benefits of employees bringing their own mobile technology into the workplace may be too great to ignore, regardless of the IT challenges it creates. After all, staff are probably already using their own devices in your business, no matter if you want them to or not.
If so, you have two choices: you can just let it happen, or you can be proactive, decide what you want to achieve through BYOD, and then plan to achieve it.
Getting started with BYOD
Some companies are encouraging employees to use their own devices by paying a stipend for any device they buy to use at work. For instance, you might pay £100 to an employee if they bought a new iPhone with the intention of using it for work as well as for personal use.
If you take this approach, it's tempting to create a list of approved devices – certainly, that makes it easier to manage IT support in your business. But you need to be careful. One of the main aims of BYOD is to give employees choice over what technology they use. It's a tricky balance to strike.
"Different devices have different levels of security and connectivity," explains Benson. "So the challenge for IT administrators is managing the security requirements across those different devices based on their capabilities. You can see how that would get really complicated really quickly."
There's also the issue of devices being used for business and personal use. How can you keep your company data and apps safe without violating users' privacy?
One option is to narrow the your choice of devices based on operating system. For instance you could require employees to choose a smart phone based on Google's Android system, or Microsoft's Windows Phone. This makes it easier to provide IT support without limiting choice too much.
BYOD is still in its early days. Yet as technology becomes ever more embedded in our everyday lives, it seems more and more ridiculous for employees to have two mobile phones (one for work, one for personal use), two tablet computers, or two laptops.
So, how do you feel about your employees bringing their own gadgets to work?
Andrew Miller is technology marketing consultant for Dell UK and Ireland.