Bring Your Own… Choice

It’s one of the hot topics at the moment, Bring Your Own Device. Institutions and companies around the world are searching for an answer. I think the problem is that they are looking for the answer rather than answers. 

At a strategy level its nice to think that there is a neat little solution to everything, but as we zoom in we start to see that things aren’t quite how they seem. The same principles that apply to the universe – the rules and functions of planets and galaxies are thrown out the window when we get to an atomic or sub-atomic level. In business we know that what gets decided in the boardroom has little to do with the actual service being conducted on the ground.

Maybe as humans we need to have things simplified, which leads me nicely to my point. The BYO movement is about choice. It’s about empowering staff, students and customers, with the freedom to choose.

In a broad and quite general sense enterprise and large scale IT has worked on the assumption that one size fits all. Big servers, big systems, big numbers & big costs. Then along comes the cloud which offers a new way of doing and thinking about IT. It offers scalable, customisable and adaptable systems and applications. It provides flexibility and freedom to choose what it is you want and have the system customised to what you need.

Cloud thinking has now, for want of a better word, ‘infected’ users with a desire for freedom of choice and the BYOD movement is about bring that freedom to choose to the devices we use everyday.

However, when we start talking about BYOD what seems to get confused is this word – choice. So often it is interpreted through the lens of a capitalist – that its about providing a variety of choices – dozens of them. Colgate can’t just be happy to make toothpaste – they need to make it in 10 exciting flavours, with whitening, with tartar control, in small medium and large sizes, travel versions and one for kids. But no one wants just one option – thats way too communist – they want options that are clear, understandable and curated for their needs, and from that selection they can decide. The freedom to choose is very different to providing a myriad of choices as its about empowerment rather than confusion and entropy.

Technology is confusing and users need guidance through it. Mobile and the cloud has changed what technology means, how we categorise it, label it even use it.  The language, the jargon and the taxonomies that have emerged over the last 5 years challenge previous knowledge – its like someone redefined all the words.

The biggest problem with the one size fits all approach is that it never serviced the individual. An open BYOD policy is actually worse as its a cop out that removes responsibility and costs away from the business and onto the user. It puts the onus on the user not on the business to cope with changing technology. It’s up to the technologically challenged to navigate through a quick treacherous period of rapid change and development.

BYOD needs to be seen as a chance to engage with our users, not an opportunity to shift responsibility.

So what’s my solution? I think it about the business actually working on defining concerns, issues, risks and then matching them to the needs of the business to form a matrix that users can easily navigate and make appropriate choices. I liked the approach outlined here on Lifehacker as a starting point.

  • On your own
  • Bring your own
  • Choose your own
  • Here’s your own

Matching the YO headings to a scale that takes into account the business requirements – support, security, privacy, access, funding etc – is the next step.

One final thought for this post.

We no longer live in a single device world. All of us have multiple devices that we interact with at home, at work and on our person. Just as we should be looking for answers to BYOD, so too should we be thinking devices – plurals rather than singulars. Part of the BYOD discussion needs to discuss what different devices should be used for and why. Some devices lend themselves to the personal parts of our work others are explicitly part of the work we do, and in this sense different devices should be treated differently. A tablet should not be treated the same way as a laptop, desktop or a smartphone – they should each have their own place and purpose in the strategy.

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2 thoughts on “Bring Your Own… Choice

  1. Hi Tim, and thanks for the comments on my blog. I totally agree with your point that BYOD can be a ‘cop-out’ for educational institutions who don’t want to deal with potentially knotty problems.

    I’m guilty of using BYOD imprecisely and as a convenient hypocrisy. What I actually meant was a ‘mixed economy’ of devices – whether student or institution-purchased. The main thrust of what I was trying to get at was that, going forward, we don’t live in a world where we can necessarily separate out hardware and software. So such a mixed economy gives institutions flexibility.

    Of course, the elephant in the room is the web. It can do *so* much more than people give it credit for… :-)

    1. Totally agree – flexibility and agility are crucial for institutions going forward – and from an IT perspective cross platform support and hardware neutrality need to be the strategic goals. Having worked in web for 10 years I don’t need convincing about it’s potential – but its important that we think beyond sites and pages for its possibilities.

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