About a decade ago, when I was heading up technology for the global marketing agency Imagination, we started to explore the idea of what would become known as Bring Your Own Device. We were thinking more radically than was ever likely to actually happen – staff given a Hardware allowance in the way that many people are given a Car allowance. Money to spend as they see fit. Staff would also be expected to provide their own computer. They could spend all of their allowance, or just some of it. As long as their device met some sort of minimum standard, the choice was theirs.
The thing that prevented this abstraction becoming a reality was the complexities of software. Although at the time we had then recently moved over to Google Apps (now known as G Suite), as a design agency we had a high reliance on the expensive Adobe Creative Suite, and other pieces of high cost software. It was too expensive to expect staff to buy their own. It was a licencing nightmare to install our software on staff’s own devices.
As we come towards the end of the new decade, it doesn’t appear that the Corporate IT world has moved on that far from these initial thoughts. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is definitely a thing, although in the larger organisations where I see it it is an exercise in creating protected “sandboxes” in which corporate software can be run isolated from the device and the world around it. Want to use your iPhone to get your work email? No problem – just install this app and you’ll get your email (just heaven help you if you want to click on a link, or copy and paste or do anything else you might actually need to do other than merely read the contents of the messages).
But you know what? Those devices? They’re not what you are using. What you are using is the software that sits on top of those devices. It’s the apps that give those sleek bits of glass and steel their power. Without the software they’re just expensive mirrors.
And that software is increasingly embedded into our lives. We are living like cyborgs, the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds blurred. We switch between personal and work, our data and theirs. And that’s because that’s how our brains work. There is no sandboxed area in our brains which can be security protected for business data. It’s not encrypted in an enterprise vault. The boundaries are fluid, and those fluid boundaries are increasingly being reflected in the software services we consume on a daily basis.
That’s no different from the pocket diary that my dad used to keep throughout his working life. Work appointments sat side by side with family events. To manage your time you need it like that. Same for contacts.
And increasingly it will be the case for other things too. My digital transformation to iPad and Pencil from Notepad and Pen has changed how I do work and not-work. But because it’s digital data an employer might assert ownership in a way that few did when it was analogue. If I want to use Evernote as my notepad, what of it? Why should that decision lead to different consequences than if it were a Moleskine?
As our lives become increasingly digitally enabled, organisations are going to need to start to understand that it’s no longer devices that people are bringing to work – it’s now software. Software that is cheap and useful and definitely mine not yours. Software that provides benefit to both employee and employer, but only if employers can start to understand that they can’t control everything in the ways that they once did.
“But Regulation!” I hear the cry. The regulations are woefully out of date, written in a paper era for paper constraints. Even the modern ones.
We are already bringing our own software to work. This trend will increase. It’s not enough to provide “tools as good” in the workplace – that will be as appropriate as providing everyone with the same clothes or the same vehicle; fine for a few professions, meaningless for most. How organisations accommodate or even thrive on their employee’s own software is the next challenge for technology managers to start to get their heads around.