analysis This week I came back from a week’s worth of holidays to find that two of the country’s leading analyst firms had reached a complete disagreement about one of the most fascinating trends sweeping Australia’s enterprise IT landscape: Bring your own device (BYO) computing.
Firstly, a media release issued by Dimension Data trumpeted research the systems integrator had commissioned Forrester to carry out. In the release, DiData highlighted the fact that in Australia, between 10 and 18 percent of organisations recently surveyed were already providing support for employee-owned laptops, tablets and smartphones. In addition, even more local groups — between 18 and 26 percent — were planning to do so over the next two years.
As you would expect him to, given his company’s role helping organisations with such plans, DiData’s chief technology officer Ettienne Reinecke said the research showed “growing employee interest” was pushing organisations to “think differently” … perhaps an appropriate turn of phrase, given the fact that most of the tablets and many of the smartphones employees are bringing into the workplace are Apple-branded.
And yet not everyone’s so keen on the BYO device phenomenon.
A separate media release issued by Ovum took the opposite slant, claiming that “only around 10 percent” of companies it had recently surveyed said their preferred model was for employees to provide their own devices. Of course, Ovum acknowledged the BYO trend would be significant long-term, as company staff clamoured to use their iPad at work, but advised chief information officers to take a cautious approach and ensure their device management capabilities and interest in cloud computing solutions — which can aid in delivering device-agnostic services — are up to date.
Now there’s two points I want to make about these two pieces of commentary about the BYO trend in Australia. Firstly, there’s the obvious point that although they’re coming at it from different angles, both Ovum and Forrester have in fact published similar data about the adoption of BYO policies in Australia. They have both arrived at around the same figure — 10 percent — for organisations which are already supporting the trend.
But the second point is perhaps the most important one: Framing the BYO debate as a yes/no question, as both firms have done, leads to a false dichotomy.
If you read into the DiData report produced by Forrester (PDF), you’ll find that the report isn’t fundamentally about BYO computing at all; it’s about desktop virtualisation; an area much nearer and dearer to the system integrator’s heart. And in fact, the report highlighted several fascinating findings about the issue and how it’s affecting organisations.
Firstly, Forrester found that there was no doubt that organisations “of all sizes, industries and geographies” are embracing client virtualisation, with the most compelling justification for adoption of the technology being the desire to escape the “seemingly never-ending ‘rip and replace’ refresh cycle” driven by desktop infrastructure refresh projects — which are often accompanied by simultaneous operating system and application overhauls.
Secondly, the analyst firm wrote — and as I recently argued with respect to cloud computing — IT managers are embracing complex, ‘hybrid’ approaches to the issue. Very few organisations are virtualising everything on the desktop. Instead they’re taking a tactical approach, using software as a service solutions alongside thin clients, on-premise and even thick client options, depending on what approach will best fit business needs.
And lastly, and perhaps this is Forrester giving a nod to DiData, the report claimed IT managers should rely on systems integrators to support them in the process. I don’t disagree with Forrester’s argument that in many organisations, desktop virtualisation migrations are a complex procedure that neither their disparate desktop support and datacentre teams are completely prepared for; but I do think such a conclusion shouldn’t be on page 2 of a report sponsored by DiData.
At least, not if you want the report to be credible.
Way down in the report is the contention that, alongside the release of new operating systems like Windows 7, BYO strategies actually represent what Forrester describes as a “major market enabler” for desktop virtualisation. One anonymous enterprise architect’s quote sums it up well:
“About a year and a half ago, I put together an application and desktop virtualisation strategy. Unfortunately, we then sat on it for a couple of months — but virtualisation’s important re-emerged with mobile devices. We realised we needed to diversify our computing ecosystem, as we felt we had been locked into proprietary plaforms. Today we’re focused on iOS support for iPhone and iPad; next up will be Android.”
Are you noticing what’s going on here? BYO computing is not a stand-alone trend. In fact, it’s not even close to being the main issue for IT managers in administering and developing their corporate systems. But end user support for the idea — CEOs and middle-managers who want to use their iPad and iPhone at work — is providing a strong justification for IT managers and CIOs to be able to re-architect their back-end systems to meet user demand.
Without BYO computing, in short, virtual desktop business cases would have a hard problem getting off the ground.
You can see this trend in the wild, too. An article published by CIO Magazine last week highlighted Southern Health’s (located in Victoria) rollout of a BYO policy, including iPads, within its organisation. But if you delve a bit deeper (which CIO’s sister publication Computerworld did a few weeks back), you’ll find that the real activity going on at Southern Health is:
“The replacement of a number of core enterprise systems such a Patient Administration, Financial Information Management, Rostering and Payroll.” — Southern Health IT director Paul Jurman
In short, BYO computing was linked to core application replacements. iPads … were just the public face which Southern Health put on a much more systemic overhaul of its critical applications.
When you’re talking about BYO computing, it’s very easy right now to get locked into a polarised debate about whether end users should be able to bring in their own devices to workplaces. And it’s a debate which every staffer who’s locked into using a 2005-era HP desktop at work with Windows XP is interested in having — because using old technology at work, when you’ve got a 2011 MacBook Pro sitting at home — seems ludicrous.
But this is primarily an end user debate. For IT managers and CIOs, the debate is a lot more complex than ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For Australian IT managers and CIOs right now, the debate should not be “should we support BYO”, but “how can we leverage BYO to get other outcomes in the business”.
This balance between populism (“I want my iPad at work”) and pragmatic reality (“How can we architect our ageing enterprise IT systems for business agility?”) is one which IT managers will face constantly in their careers — as many other professionals will as well. Right now, with BYO computing, there’s a golden chance to balance these competing priorities out; if Australian CIOs can frame the business case right.