Sunday, November 6, 2011

BYOC ... Bring Your Own Computer!

I've seen a lot of news recently about Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) to work. Driven by an abundance of reasonably priced options for smartphones, tablets, and laptops, folks want to bring their access devices from home to work. Given the freedom of choice, most people tend to buy something that meets their personal needs. The problem for the central IT department is that we get comfortable with them. Then we want to bring them to work.

BYOC is more of a cultural problem than a technical problem for central IT. Historically, end-user computer access devices were dumb terminals. No data belonging to the organization was permanently resident on these devices. No functionality to manipulate the data was built into the device. All corporate data was controlled behind the end-user access point. The illusion of control was absolute. Central IT had complete authority over the data everywhere.

Evolution kicks in and processing power comes to the terminal. We replace terminals with PC's. The PC can collect corporate proprietary knowledge, download it, and save it on portable media. Suddenly everything is at risk. Corporate IT departments respond by locking down personal computers. Standardized hardware and software is enforced. External access is limited and monitored. Control is necessary and accepted because the stakes are high.

But today that paradigm is being shattered. The latest stage of evolution is BYOC. Users are demanding choice. Yet if IT can't enforce standard devices, is corporate security doomed? I doubt it. I think we can we learn from history. What succeeded in the day of dumb terminals? It wasn't control, it was trustworthy information. What succeeded in the day of PC's? Greater user functionality and service.

Central IT should worry about protecting proprietary knowledge, intellectual property, and personal privacy. If you build information services with security in mind from the ground up, none of that data should reside on end user devices anyway. Architect your systems to give users the service they deserve on the devices they want.

Absolute control of end user devices was an ephemeral luxury for central IT groups. That luxury is fading into the sunset. Client service is not about the device, but the information systems available. That might be a lot harder to achieve without locked down standard devices. But it sure means your clients are going to be happier. Boxing up a standard, plain vanilla device is easy. Providing real service to your clients is hard. But worth it.


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