Bring-your-own-device to work gets more common

In this May 13, 2009, file photo, Jonathan Hutcheson works on his laptop as his iPhone lays beside it at a coffee shop in Columbia, Mo. The trend of bringing your own device to work started with smartphones and is spreading to laptops and tablets, largely driven by the popularity of Apple devices among consumers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-L.G. Patterson, File

MONTREAL - Employees not only want to use their preferred smartphone on the job, they are starting to use their computer of choice, a trend called bring-your-own-device to work, which often favours Apple devices.

Company-issued PCs and mobile phones are being challenged by some employees who argue they work more efficiently on their own devices, say experts.

"It has moved from smartphones to laptops," said Stephen Midgley of Absolute Software, a Vancouver company that has software to securely manage smartphones, laptops and tablets with different operating systems used in workplaces.

"Smartphones have driven it because consumers wanted to use their iPhones," Midgley said.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (TSX:RIM) has been hit by the trend in the workplace, where it has traditionally dominated.

American drilling giant Halliburton has said it's phasing out remaining BlackBerrys among its 70,000 employees. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has begun issuing iPhones. Some Canadian law firms and investment companies are allowing iPhones to be used.

"It's a global trend being led by the United States and quickly followed by Canada and also Europe," said Midgley, whose employer has 35,000 customers.

The reality is that employees can dictate terms to their company's information technology departments and in turn cause security worries, said Midgley, vice-president of global marketing at Absolute Software (TSX:ABT).

"While we may have a more efficient workforce, who gets distracted with apps, we open ourselves up to more risk when it comes to things like data breaches."

Historically, senior managers were driving the trend but many of the technology-proficient Millennial generation favour Mac computers or devices with Google's Android operating system, Midgley said.

Sukhi Gill, chief technologist for computer maker Hewlett Packard in Europe, the Middle East and Africa region, said the trend is in his own organization.

Gill said he has hired a few employees who came to work with Apple computers and they told him why a corporate-provided HP device was OK but would "constrain" them. It's not just about preferred devices, he added.

"I think it has changed to now I can work faster. I can be more productive with my own device than with the corporate-provided device," said Gill, who's based in London.

You can't ignore the "consumerization" wave that's hitting workplaces, he said.

"This is people having better IT at home than they do at work not only in terms of the devices, but in terms of the power they have to be able to book flights, to buy things and to collaborate to create social communities."

Although tablets like the iPad are increasing in workplaces, Gill said still he sees them more as consumer devices.

"When you ultimately want to create content, you want a proper keyboard."

Technology analyst Duncan Stewart said it's now more affordable for companies to support different kinds of devices.

"At one point, trying to support different devices was a huge cost," said Stewart, director of research technology, media and telecom at Deloitte Canada.

"It's now half of that or less," he said from Toronto.

IT departments will have to adjust to the trend, Stewart said.

"The IT environment of the future will have to, or almost certainly, have to support multiple devices from multiple manufacturers running multiple operating systems. What the percentage is and who pays for it and how you administer it, those are all details."