Is the public sector letting BYOD down?

Clare Hopping

Wednesday 6 December 2017

The private sector loves BYOD, but it seems to be relatively unpopular among public sector decision makers. Why could that be? And how can we initiate a positive change in their attitudes?

Bring your own device (BYOD) has been embraced widely by the private sector, with an estimated 74 per cent of companies using it or planning to in the not-too-distant future, but the public sector doesn’t seem to share that enthusiasm.

Recent insight suggests that as many as half of London’s councils don’t have a BYOD policy in place, begging the question ‘why?’.

What is it about BYOD policy, which has been widely praised for offering a number of advantages (monetary and otherwise), that unsettles public sector IT departments?

Sitting squarely at the head of the list of con points is security.

Security

After several high-profile data breaches this year alone, it’s easy to see why IT departments would want to eschew any would-be solution that might increase their chances of suffering a similar fate.

Connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots, installing malware and other risks sit high on the list of security concerns when discussing BYOD, and these issues are ones that chronically underfunded public services are loathe to let in, given the potential ramifications of failure.

Indeed, the looming shadow of the new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) legislation adds even more weight to the shoulders of embattled IT departments working in the public sector, and leaves them even less room for error than they previously had.

Under the new regulations, more data will be subject to data protection laws and a higher level protection will need to be afforded to sensitive personal data, creating a potential mire for IT departments, as they look to integrate BYOD into their plans.

Permissions

Another issue which has been raised is one of standards. Deciding who meets the standard to be permitted use of their own device to access and transmit potentially very sensitive information is no straightforward task. And when adequate choices have been made, telling your employees what they are and aren’t permitted to do on their device could lead to further confusion, and even disciplinary and enforcement issues.

Hardware integration

Hardware parity is another concern. With many different devices being brought into the fold, how can IT specialists ensure a common experience across the board while ensuring no leaks or breaches occur? Hardware homogeneity might be costly, but it comes with peace of mind – something which is often conspicuously absent when BYOD is in play.

Cost

Cost to the individual can be another issue associated with BYOD. Pay caps, lack of competitive salaries and general paucity of funds have the potential to leave some public sector employees in an invidious position were they expected to provide (and fund) their own hardware. One must also bear in mind that its hardware is likely to wear out far quicker than if it were just being used for standard, personal applications.

BYOD benefits

Naturally, one of the biggest pro points among IT decision makers is money. BYOD has the potential to save fortunes, but it’s something which must be weighed carefully against the risks.

Savings in terms of not having to purchase large numbers of devices might seem attractive at first, but when factored beside a potential for increased IT support spending, they might not be all that it initially appeared.

Even with increased demand on IT workers, the savings are notable. However, the cost of a device palls in comparison to those generated by training and education solutions for company-owned hardware.

In fact, familiarity with hardware is another great all-around positive of a well-implemented BYOD policy. Personalisation and comfort with hardware is only ever likely to result in more productive employees, and less headaches for IT staff.

Is change afoot?

The hanging sword of security issues, coupled with an endemic fear of change among many in the public sector, likely means that the push back against BYOD and its net benefits will continue for the time being.

That said, with BYOD set to go from a $67 billion industry to a $181 billion one by the end of 2017, it is something that will become increasingly difficult to ignore.

Success stories from public services that have embraced the philosophy and made it work to their advantage are likely to add positivity to the discussion – in time. And mistakes made along the way, by those implementing BYOD, will give those on the fence something to work with when formulating their own strategy and considering their options.

Change is seldom achieved overnight, though, and while we’re still seeing archetypal reticence from government institutions, the first few dominos have already fallen. This means it’s likely to be a case of ‘when’, rather than ‘if’, when it comes to BYOD’s proliferation within the public sector.

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