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BYOD: A bigger headache for IT bosses than Windows Metro?

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Nothing elicits passionate debate quite like the suggestion that consumer technology is dictating workplace IT - with the exception of arguments over the Windows 8 Metro desktop, perhaps.

The debate on the consumerisation of IT is packed with business, legal and human resources headaches. Individual prejudices and experience colour approaches to the topic.

Vendors are itching to cash in on the burgeoning and lucrative market of BYOD - bringing your own devices into work - and are responsible for muddying the waters as sysadmins spread doom.

Like "cloud" and "virtualization" before it, the consumerisation of IT and BYOD concepts are somewhat intermingled. The traditionally accepted definition of the consumerisation of IT is when a disruptive technology - think smartphones, social media, etc - takes root in the consumer market first and then migrates into businesses.

This is a "bottom up" approach to technological adoption and it causes angst among managers; in preceding decades, new technologies typically started off in the business sphere and moved out to consumers.

The cheerleaders of consumerisation would have us believe that the rise of the iPhone means the complete upheaval of the more traditional model; a frequent bogus claim is that consumer technology will completely supplant tech targeted at the enterprise. In truth, plenty of technologies are still developed for business use first before migrating "down" to consumers. Precious few consumers have a deduplicating NAS, Big Data rig, or an IaaS setup at home.

Still, consumer technologies are infiltrating the workplace.

Considering how many new technologies are out there, consumerisation can cover everything from software to hardware to cloud services. BYOD is generally used to describe a narrow subset of consumerisation; users purchasing their own devices and using them for work purposes - with or without the sanction of IT. I include notebooks and even desktops within BYOD as, in my experience, demands by users strongly impact the deployment of these devices. For the purposes of this article, I will use BYOD to mean any user-selected device.

Another trend lumped under the consumerisation of IT is Apple in the enterprise. This is a growing thing; IBM alone has more than 30,000 Macbooks deployed. Companies ranging from my own consultancy to behemoths like NASA, Google, Intel and even schools have adopted heterogeneous network policies.

How the consumerisation of IT can affect your network

The fundamental issue presented by the consumerisation of IT is the expansion of platforms present in your company. It could be as simple as device models not being vetted by IT. It could mean hardware, software or services from companies other than preferred suppliers. If not handled properly, the result is IT upon which users are dependent but for which IT has no visibility, potentially no training and likely no spares in stock.

On the software side, we are talking about a potential explosion in software used by everyday users. The corporately mandated browser might be quietly replaced with Firefox or Chrome. With the adoption of new browsers comes the use of plug-ins and extensions.

Cloud services such as Teamviewer - designed to work around corporate firewalls - may also start showing up. Social networks, instant messaging, alternative office packages, and user experience improvement tools (such as uBit menu and Classic Shell) are all things that IT departments may have to contend with.

How will this impact me?

Talking to vendors or asking IT practitioners about the scope of consumerisation within their organization does not give you a true appreciation for what is in fact going on. Here you are seeing only the results of companies that have noticed, and acknowledged the consumerisation of IT. Attempting to gauge the scope of the problem at a macro level will be difficult; how do you take into account clandestine IT deployments you haven't become aware of?

The effect that consumerisation has on your organization will depend on how powerful the push from users is, and whether or not you choose to embrace it. If nobody is pushing for anything different than what is already on the table, then everybody wins and life is good. If, however, there is a deep rooted dissatisfaction with the hardware, software, and services provided by the IT dept, then clandestine deployments of unauthorized computing will inevitably start to appear.

Anecdotally, a significant percentage of clandestine IT is actually created by IT department workers themselves. Everything from stealth installations of Spiceworks to using remote connectivity tools to access a home computer or test lab are fairly common occurrences. In general, most organisations quietly ignore this, but when users start getting in on the game, suddenly there's a problem.

There are a lot more users than there are members of IT. Unlike IT, users probably don't have a true appreciation for the scope of the issues that their decisions can create. User-driven clandestine IT is also frequently invisible. The rest of IT knows about the secret Spiceworks server, even if they don't mention it to other departments. Users fearing reprisal are not going to speak out about using their iPad for work unless caught.

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