How does BYOD affect BPM?

Tablet Device ComparisonIn this post I'll be looking at the concept of BYOD (or Bring Your Own Device)

BYOD is a concept that, frankly, didn't exist a couple of years ago. Mobile devices were laptops and that was, pretty much, all you could use. You took one to a client (or an affiliate/branch site) and plugged it into the network. It became your mobile desk.

But since the advent of the iPhone and the subsequent boom in smartphone and tablets, the concept of someone 'bringing their own device' to a location is a much more diverse affair. (Of course, 'devices' have been around a lot longer than the iPhone. In the attached picture you can see a Palm Pilot, Apple Newtons, and Treos. But the iPhone - and it's ability to connect outside the device itself, has really pushed this sector forward)

I do a lot of work at the 'offices' of a well know Seattle-based coffee shop and whenever I go there I link into their Wi-fi with both my smartphone and tablet and I can work pretty much seamlessly between the two. I don't need my laptop which stays at home 99% of the time nowadays. I know that this is something that a large number of 'mobile' workers do.

Connie Moore from Forrester wrote an article on the concept of Bring Your Own Technology back in November. In it she stated:
According to Forrester's Forrsights Workforce Employee Survey, Q4 2011, of nearly 10,000 workers worldwide, 53% bring their own technology for work. The rapid growth of mobile BYOT devices within business is reminiscent of Web adoption during the mid-1990s. After early handwringing and resistance, followed by rapid growth and innovation, the Web emerged as an indispensable tool. No one thinks twice now about using the Web for work. BYOT will follow a similar pattern.

What does this mean for BPM?

As with a lot of 'new, fangled stuff', there are issues to be overcome.

The first issue to be tackled is acceptance.

Connie makes mention of an underlying issue with this concept in many businesses, which is that of security. In regulated firms the concept of allowing a 'foreign' machine to attach to a network is anathema. The RIM Blackberry phones are, pretty much, the only tools that are exempt from this and that's because they are controllable by a central IT function. As someone who previously worked in the highly regulated Pharmaceutical industry I can align with this sentiment.

In more  'open' firms this is less of an issue. I know creative designers who edit video at a remote location on their iPad using the LogMeIn app on their home PC and running renders on their work servers. For them this is a case where the BYOD concept has made them more productive and able to work in places they would never have been able to do so before (This particular instance occurred when the employee in question was sitting in a vehicle service reception waiting for his car to have some work done on it!)

Growth factors
A lot of this BYOD expansion has been brought about by increased usage of 'The Cloud' and associated applications. Companies like Dropbox and Evernote have pioneered the ability to produce something in one location on one machine and have it instantly available on all machines at any location. Application developers are linking in to this ability by designing connections to these apps (and others) in their products. This very post you are reading was started on my PC at home, continued on my iPad in a remote location and  finished back on the laptop at home, all through the use of Dropbox and apps that connect to it. The ease with which these tools are now integrated into many peoples lives means that their use in a work environment is bound to increase. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to work on a document at your desk, save it to the cloud and continue work on it on the train home in an evening via Dropbox or some other Cloud application? I can see this becoming something that is more prevalent as time increases.

The BPM world needs to understand this and incorporate it into their workflow.  Many workflow automation tools use email as a way of notifying users that tasks are awaiting their attention within the tool. In normal situations the user would sign on to the app, process the task and sign out. This is fine if you are in the office, but what happens if you want to use your commute, or time at a coffee shop, or a spare ten minutes after the kids have gone to bed, to process these things on your phone or tablet? If the security of the company is set up to inhibit access to your network from non-approved hardware this, effectively, rules that out.

For reasons we have discussed earlier this is something that will work differently depending on the sort of business you are working on. Highly regulated industries will have to work on finding some sort of alternative to doing this. Some of the less regulated industries will probably look at this and understand that there are benefits to allowing user devices on their network. Either way, this is not something that can be ignored.

BYOD is here to stay. The 'phablet' (phone and tablet in one device) is widely rumoured to be the next big thing. As the adoption of tools like these increases (my parents now have iPhones and iPads!), companies engaged in BPM need to look at this and understand what are the synergies and benefits of allowing BYOD.

Allowing people to use their own devices (if they want) to do things they might not, otherwise have done, can only be a benefit.

Are you allowing BYOD in relation to BPM? What are the results?

Photo Credit: Jamais Cascio via Compfight cc

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