There is a lot of buzz around about the porting of applications to every conceivable platform. Most of it can be traced back to a movement in the IT/user world known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), the idea that a user can bring in their own personal access device and still manage to perform their job functions. I’m going to look at BYOD and why I think that it’s more of the same stuff we’ve been dealing with since lunch period in high school.
BYOD isn’t a new concept. Contractors and engineers have been doing it for years. Greg Ferro and Chris Jones would much prefer bringing their own Macbooks to a customer’s site to get the job done. Matthew Norwood would prefer to have just about anything other than the corporate dinosaur that he babies through boot up and shut down. Even I have my tastes when it comes to laptops. Recently though, the explosion of smartphones and tablets has caused a shift toward more ubiquitous computing. It now seems to be a bullet point requirement that your software or hardware has a support app in a cloud app repository or the capability to be managed from a 3.5″ capacitive touch screen. Battle lines are drawn around whether or not your software is visible on a Fruit Company Mobile Device or a Robot Branded Smarty Phone. Users want to drag in any old tablet and expect to do their entire job function from 7″ screen.
However, while BYOD is all about running software from any endpoint, the driving forces behind it aren’t quite as noble. I think once I start describing how I see things, you’ll start noticing a few parallels, especially if you have teenagers.
– BYOD is about prestige. Who usually starts asking about running an app on an iPad? Well, besides the office Gadget Nerd that ran out and stood in line for 4 hours and ran out of the store screeching like kid in a candy store? Odds are, it’s the CxO that comes to you and informs you that they’ve just purchased a Galaxy Tablet and they would like it setup. The device is gingerly handed to you to perform your IT voodoo on, all while the executive waits patiently. Usually, there is some kind of interjection from them about how they got a good deal and how the drone at the store told them it had a lot of amazing features. The CxO usually can’t wait to show it around after you’ve finished syncing their mail and calendar and pictures of their expensive dogs. Wanna know why? Because it’s a status symbol. They want to show off all the things it can do to those that can’t get one. Whether it be due to being overpriced or unavailable from any supply chain, there are some people that revel in rubbing people’s noses in opulence. By showing off how their tablet or smartphone gets emails and surfs the web, they are attempting to widen the IT class gap. Sound like high school to you? Air Jordans? Expensive blue jeans? Ringing any bells? The same kind of people that liked to crow that their parents bought them a BMW in high school are the same ones that will gladly show off their iPad or Galaxy Tab solely for the purpose of snubbing you. They could really care less about doing their job from it.
– BYOD is about entitlement. I could go on and on about this one, but I’ll try to keep it on topic. There seems to be a growing movement in the younger generation that you as a company owe them something for coming to work for you. They want things like nap time or gold stars next to their names for doing something. No, really. This naturally extends to their choice of work device. I’m going to pick on Mac users here because that particular device comes up more often that not, but it extends to Linux users and Windows users as well. The “entitled” user thinks that you should change your entire network architecture to suit their particular situation. Something like this:
User: I can’t get my mail.
Admin: You’re using the Fail Mail client. We’re on Exchange. You’ll need to use Outlook.
User: I’m not installing Office on my system! Microsoft is a cold-hearted company that murders orphans in Antarctica. Fail Mail donates $.25 of every shareware license to the West Pacific Tree Slug Preservation Society. I want to use my mail client.
Admin: I guess you could use the webmail…
User: How about you use the Fail Mail Server instead? They donate $2 of every purchase to fungus research. I think it’s a much more capable server than dumb old Exchange anyway.
I hope this doesn’t sound familiar. One of the great joys of IT is telling users you aren’t going to reinvent the wheel just to mollify them. However, in many cases the user demanding your change everything happens to sign your paycheck. That does have the effect of ripping out one mail server or reprogramming a whole tool because it used/didn’t use Flash/HTML 5.
– BYOD is about never changing your perspective. I have an iPad. And an iPhone. And a behemoth Lenovo w701 laptop. And I use them all. Often, I use them at the same time. I see each as a very capable tool for what it’s designed to do. I don’t read ebooks on my iPhone. I don’t run virtual machines on my iPad. And I don’t use my laptop for texting or phone calls. Just like I don’t use screwdrivers like chisels or use a pipe wrench like a hammer. However, there are some people that like picking up one device and never putting it down. These people seem to believe that the world would be a more perfect place if they could sit in their chair and do their whole job from a touch screen. They feel that moving to a laptop to type a blog post is a travesty. Being forced to use a high-powered graphical desktop for CAD work is unthinkable. I have to admit that I’ve tried to see things from their perspective. I’ve tried to use my iPad to take notes and remotely administer servers. Guess what? I just couldn’t do it. I’m a firm believer that tools should be used according to their design, rather than having a 56-in-one tool that does a lot of things poorly.
I think keeping your tools capable and portable is a very good thing. I hate software that can only be run from a Windows 2000 server or needs a special hardware dongle to even start. I love that tools are becoming web-enabled and can be used from any PC/Mac/toaster. However, I also think that things need to be kept in perspective. BYOD is a Charlie Foxtrot just waiting to happen if the motivations behind it aren’t honest and sincere. Simply porting your management app to the App Store so the CxO can show off his new iPad while complaining that we need to scrap the company website because it uses Flash and no one will bother using their dumb old laptop ever again is really, really bad. Give me a compelling reason to use your app, like a new intuitive interface or a remote capability I wouldn’t normally have. Just putting your tablet app out so you can sound cool or fit in with the popular crowd won’t work any better than wearing parachute pants did in high school. Except, this time you won’t get stuffed into a locker. You’ll just lose my business.