So, to BYOD or not to BYOD? The BYOD school argues that it is inevitably the way forward across the enterprise. With social media becoming an increasing choice of collaboration together with the proliferation of devices such as tablets and smartphones, employees expect to be able to use their device of choice.

Yet the other school, the Not to BYOD, forecasts that BYOD is not as much of a good thing as perhaps originally anticipated, bringing with it security, cost and data management issues. Aberdeen Group recently weighed into the argument with some research that found that on average, a company with 1,000 mobile devices spends an extra $170,000 per year when they use a BYOD approach.

So how can CIOs move forward? It’s essential that they weigh up the pros and cons of implementing a BYOD approach, the costs versus employee needs, productivity, company culture, business requirements and security.

The generation factor: Generation Z vs. Senior Management

As the so-called ‘Generation Z’ enters the workforce, it has been widely believed that they will be the ones to introduce their own smartphones and tablets into the workplace.

Yet a recent study completed by Computacenter has found that ‘Generation Z’ is in fact far less enthusiastic about using personal devices in the workplace than CIOs are. Less than half of the young people questioned believed that personal devices make them more productive at work, while almost 70 per cent of senior IT decision makers believed it did.

Add to this the fact that just 17 per cent of Gen Z said they wanted to use social media to talk to colleagues at work, with the majority instead favouring either face to face chats or email, and it’s clear that perhaps the workforce habits of Gen Z aren’t changing as dramatically as we thought.

Tools matched with role requirements = increased productivity

So a BYOD policy needs to be based on individual user profiles, rather than on Generation profiles. If this is done, then a BYOD policy can reap rewards in employee productivity.

CIOs should examine what each employee does within the enterprise, and whether or not they need BYOD to better do their job. Often, if not in a customer-facing role, employees will not see any real gain in terms of productivity from BYOD. But when tablets are used in a retail environment or across a hospital, for example, it can hugely improve productivity and make the resolving of customer enquiries or patient health-checks much easier and time-efficient – something that is undoubtedly going to increase productivity and customer/patient satisfaction.

Cultural Capital Must Play Its Part

If we take the example of a global company operating across three different geographies – South Africa, the UK and the UAE – in this instance, they would certainly approach BYOD differently across the different geographies, due to local cultural capital.

In South Africa, it is not the norm to be provided with a company mobile. Companies pay staff for work-related usage, or provide an allowance, but this usually relies on the user having a mobile device in the first place. So CIOs and IT managers have effectively been dealing with BYOD for years.

Yet in the UAE, it is a completely different situation. Junior staff do not get offered a BYOD policy, only top management staff receive company devices to use. And if we compare this again to the UK, a large number of us walk around with multiple devices, segregating our communication based on our work and personal lives.

It’s essential that CIOs recognise the different cultures and expectations in different countries, and adapt their policies accordingly across the enterprise.

More or less cost to manage? Depends on the business

So now to costs. It’s fair to say that, for CIOs, there can be significant advantages found in implementing a BYOD policy. Tablets are fairly durable – an aspect which IT managers particularly favour – and when ordered in bulk, tablets can have a relatively low corporate cost per unit, compared to laptops.

Whilst a BYOD policy does increase choice for every generation of employee – companies often feel they lose control over what happens to the device, and corporate control is relaxed. This can lead to concerns over physical security, as tablets are easy to steal outside the workplace; increased risk and complexity for IT managers; loss of data; increased management with staff moves, additions and changes; higher operational costs and the increased risk of malwares and viruses.

And in some industry sectors where security and data loss is a key issue, such as Defence and Finance, companies are focusing on a strategy around applications on the chosen devices in order to enhance productivity of their users, rather than allowing them to choose any device of their choice. At the end of the day, it is the applications which are driving BYOD adoption, and the value they bring to an employee in the workplace.

The level of multi-level security and device management required, depends on business and user needs. For example, a school or university has relatively low management costs, no integrity check is needed and the data is the responsibility of the user, compared to a financial company where a full integrity check with web based authentication is needed for each individual user.

Companies also need to take into consideration the legal issues concerning the BYOD trend. Can employers legally monitor employee owned devices for data or policy infringement, improper time and resources utilisation, device usage policies etc? All of these policies assume that the device is owned by the employer. But this needs to be updated as well in line with the new trend, for at least limited monitoring.

Yes cost and legal issues are factors, but infrastructure specialists such as Alcatel-Lucent have been developing infrastructure solutions to enable the development of BYOD. There is cost effective technology out there to manage and provide secure access and management in a BYOD environment. These network infrastructures provide secure collaborative conversation applications on employees’ device of choice – the same infrastructure which can integrate voice and data platforms and provide video. Indeed we have just launched our OpenTouch Conversation, which enables seamless communication across multiple devices, including the iPad.

So how can we answer the BYOD debate?

As vendors, our approach should meet whatever strategy CIOs are looking to implement. Our job is to provide secure communication applications across multiple devices and cost effective infrastructure to support that choice, whether BYOD or not BYOD.

CIOs need to shift the focus of BYOD adoption away from purely a cost perspective, which may or may not be true in some cases, but instead need to look at productivity gains in the workplace and relating that to the individual employees’ benefit.

The choice is there for CIOs to choose a pragmatic deployment strategy with due diligence and 360 degree assessment in order to pace their adoption, based on business and user role requirements. And if they do choose a BYOD approach, it’s key that CIOs ensure they have made employees aware of the dos and don’ts of BYOD through comprehensive company policy procedures.

Only then will enterprises be able to ensure optimal employee productivity based on those users that need BYOD and those that don’t.