Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)


With the onset of smartphones and tablets, the issue of Bring Your Own Device is rising to the top of some corporate technology discussions.  The term refers to policies allowing employees to bring their own devices and use those devices for work.  The term can also apply to students using devices they own at an educational institution.  

While there have been low levels of this conversation for years with laptops and cell phones, the issue has exploded with the recent proliferation of smartphones and tablets.  Those devices are truly the drivers of this debate.  The current concerns are focused on data, privacy, liability and implementation of formal policies.  

Once those logistical issues are resolved, many companies and organizations will quickly hit another wall of issues revolving around usability.  The usefulness of smartphones and tablets is largely driven by the apps created for those devices.  While there are business apps available on the iTunes and Google Play stores, the stores themselves are clearly focused on consumer apps. There is a definite lack of flexibility around the purchasing and managing of  apps for business.  

We hit these issues head on when we released the first version of our GeoJot app in 2011.  As a developer we had little control over volume pricing, there was one price on the store and it was the same price for everyone.  In addition, for the most part, employees had to download and pay for the app individually.  This created a logistical nightmare at many organizations.  The last issue, looming large for the BYOD debate, is that the apps purchased were tied to the hardware which might belong to the employee instead of the company which purchased the app for business use.  It was a mess.

When confronted with mobile app issues, some companies are simply walking away from third party apps and the app stores.  Even though there is commercially available functionality that meets their needs, companies are looking to build their own apps, spending tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to build, maintain and support a product they should have been able to purchase.  

At GeoSpatial Experts we spent much of our 2012 development time creating a new product that would meet these special needs of our business customers.  The new GeoJot+ was built to allow the customer to purchase not only the app, but a full solution that included the app as one component.  Additionally, customers are now able to make one corporate purchase to cover all their employees.  And the app is tied to the company, not to an individual employee or an individual device.  This is important if the company has allowed employees to BYOD, if there is seasonal staff, volunteers, or staff turnover.  It also simplifies the process when devices are damaged or lost.  An administrator can manage users from a dashboard easily transferring licenses between devices, even Apple and Android devices.  

While the focus of the BYOD conversation today revolves around logistics, the next round will likely be focused on functionality and usability.  The app stores will have to decide if they will remain solely focused on the consumer or if they will expand into the commercial market.  If they chose to expand to commercial applications, they must begin to provide the flexibility required for business use.  If they don’t provide that infrastructure, the business market will pass them by.    

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