Was ‘bring your own computer’ (BYOC / BYOPC) ever really a thing?

BYOD arrived out of necessity, but BYO laptop was always trickier. Fortunately, supporting diverse endpoints (i.e., issuing corporate Macs) is easier now.

With Microsoft announcing a line of crazy new devices last week, and macOS Catalina out this week, we’ve had hardware on our mind. As a result, a recent conversation led to the question: “Was bring your own computer ever really a thing?”

The conclusion was a resounding “No.”

The idea is simple enough, and we’ve been talking about it in one form or another since before Apple released the iPhone. Employees all have their own preferences, so why not just let them bring in their personal computer of choice? And hey, the company can save money since we don’t have to buy them a laptop now!

I’ll point out that, yes, employees have been logging on from personal PCs to check their email and do the occasional odd tasks for years, and plenty of contractors work from PCs that are not owned or managed by the client company. Ad hoc BYOC will always happen, too—just look at the handful of Macs that end up in almost any organization.

But today, I’m specifically talking about corporate office employees who would normally be issued a company laptop, but under bring your own computer programs, have the option to use something they choose and purchase on their own.

After all the talk about BYOC (or BYOPC, or BYO laptop, or whatever term you prefer; I use them interchangeably), it’s clear that there are just way too many problems.

In the earlier days of this conversation, VDI or client hypervisors were proposed as a BYO solution—you secure and manage the corporate image; and don’t worry about the host. But these were both more complicated and expensive than just doing business as usual.

The idea of just letting personal laptops onto the network has long been horrifying, as many personal PCs are a security and management nightmare, with huge amounts of variability. Who knows what could come in the door with a BYO computer!

Even as BYOPC-enabling technologies have picked up steam, consumers have lost interest in PCs in favor of smartphones and tablets. (As an IT nerd I’m not in the best position to be in the minds of average consumers, but seriously, I think my friends and family average 6 or 7-year replacement cycles on their laptops.) Windows 10 may have various workplace join and MDM options, but who actually does this?

Then, there’s the whole issue of cost savings. Remember, if you require users to do BYOD, you’re really just taking away a portion of their employment benefits. Plus, tighter laws around gig working and contractors may put an end to this, anyway. You may save a little bit on the cost of hardware, but you’ll spend more figuring out how to make a BYO program work.

BYOD, as in phones and tablets, was always different. iPhones and Android arrived in a huge flood of popular demand, and today a decent number of consumers are on one-year replacement cycles. There’s just a huge demand for BYOD. BYOD is also much easier to manage, as there’s way less variability. You have an iPhone or a modern Android phone? You’re good to go!

Brian’s 2007 article about the employee-owned PC did anticipate a lot of trends that came to pass. And the latest trend of conditional access helps enable diverse endpoints, as well. But in general, today we’re much more pragmatic about endpoints, and there’s nothing wrong with saying no to BYOD

We should also acknowledge that which bring your own laptop has never really taken off, choose your own has. Many companies offer a short list of different devices, with the benefits of avoiding the legal liability associated with personal laptops, as well as the management headaches of supporting a broad range of hardware.

Finally, let’s face it—whether you’re talking bring your own or choose your own, this often means a lot more Macs in your environment. Fortunately, supporting Macs is no longer quite the sorcery that it once was for Windows-oriented shops. There are way more mainstream management and app options, and in fact, Mac management is continuing to be a huge growth area. (If you’re new to the space, subscribe to the Mac Admins Podcast, and dig through the archives.)

This does mean that offering Macs is more of a business decision; i.e., are we going to make the IT investment (both in tools and knowledge and training), and will it pay off in employee experience, recruitment, and retention?

So, I think that in the coming year, now that most businesses are past the Windows 7 to 10 headache, part of the BYOC vision will come to pass. It will just be in a different form, as more companies issue Macs as part of choose your own device programs. As an interesting coda, Windows apps published from the cloud will help enable some use cases, too.

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