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Micah Fairchild Mobile HR: Understanding the BYOD Challenge

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Understanding the Mobile HR Trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

Although certain functional HR areas are up for debate with regard to whether mobile HCM is overhyped, what is clear is that the use of mobile devices by employees and managers to access and interact with HR, payroll, and benefits data is quickly becoming a widespread phenomenon. In fact, a 2011 BusinessWeek research report (Mobile HR: The Global Challenge) found that adoption was sitting right at 32% globally (the leading region was Asia/Pacific at 42%, with the U.S. and Europe lagging slightly at 27% and 31% respectively). And even further back, in 2010, Gary Butler (ADP President and CEO) was quoted as saying, "Within the next two years, we're going to see businesses spending 35% of their IT budgets on mobile”.

Aside from adoption and spend rates though, part and parcel with this trend for mobility is the rising tide of employees looking to utilize their own mobile devices to complete these tasks—a fact that has caused a healthy amount of debate between both employers and staff as businesses try to understand exactly what the implications of personal phones, PDAs, and tablets truly are.

A product of the consumerization of the workforce, bring-your-own-device (or BYOD as it is more commonly called), is being driven by the fact that employees at all levels are increasingly deciding that they would rather use the same (and often more advanced) mobile HR technologies for both work and home. As a recent editorial in the May issue of IT in Europe magazine points out, “users believe they can be more productive using the familiar smartphones they use every day”. Among other things, this approach implies a blurring of boundaries and an engagement that in one sense may gratifying for the employer (as workers are focused on improving efficiency and are prepared to use the best tool for the job; even if it’s their own); but the flip side of that coin is that the mobile BYOD trend can be a major headache for IT departments as they must address data privacy and network access control issues while also maintaining levels of support and service to a multitude of various laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

What Are The Specific Mobile HR Challenges of BYOD?

Aside from the above mentioned items, organizations going the BYOD route for HR, payroll, benefits and other business applications are facing a host of other challenges; including infrastructure, cost savings, and security.

  • Mobile HR BYOD Challenge #1: Infrastructure Issues
    As a 2012 research brief from Aruba Networks (Conquering Today’s Bring-Your-Own-Device Challenges) points out, when users bring their consumer devices to work, “everyone expects access to business applications and content, not just the Internet”. And while mobile use out in the field is one thing, the fact of the matter is that when quantities of new devices are in the office, the wireless network may not be able to handle the bandwidth demands. Granted, this is a symptom of a larger problem (i.e. the fact that the current networks weren’t built for BYOD), but as the Aruba Networks study notes, “Numerous network access products are available today (many of which are being positioned as BYOD solutions); however, most fall short of providing the necessary scope required to span wired, wireless, and VPN infrastructures and to support employees, contractors and guests and the myriad devices they own”.

  • Mobile HR BYOD Challenge #2: Cost
    The argument for cost savings in the Mobile HR BYOD paradigm is not without its inconsistencies. For one thing, a recent Forrester report found that 75+% of mobile technologies are being purchased by employees and used for dual home and work purposes. Even more interesting is the fact that according to Good Technology’s State of BYOD Report, “50 percent of companies with BYOD models are requiring employees to cover all costs; and [those employees] are happy to do so”. Yet, as Mobile HR BYOD morphs from an underground occurrence into a full-blown corporate program, organizations are increasingly beginning to offer stipends to employees to offset the cost of purchases. The trick though is that corporate rates for bulk device purchases or group data plans are often cheaper and by funding individual devices and plans the margin of savings narrows. All that said, a July 2012 Tech Target article (Don’t Count on BYOD Cost Savings, Experts Say) cites one clear example from Citrix of where savings have been made. According to calculations on the total cost of ownership (TCO) of corporate-issued PCs, it made sense for Citrix to offer stipends of 85% to interested employees for them to buy their choice of a fit-for-purpose laptop. This resulted in a modest saving for the company and a cost-neutral outcome for users. However the same plan didn’t make financial sense for smartphones. The key appears to be aim for modest savings and keep expectations realistic.

  • Mobile BYOD Challenge #3: Security Concerns
    Security is always an issue for data downloaded via mobile devices but the issue is compounded when access to HR, payroll, and benefits data is involved. Even when looked at through the lens of functionalities such as mobile recruiting and learning, a Websense 2012 Threat Report found that 51% of users circumvent or turn off device passwords and security controls on mobile devices. The report concludes that BYOD programs are actually heightening the risk to information safety; stating, “BYOD… and cloud computing are outpacing most IT teams for both support and security measures.”

Meeting the Mobile HR BYOD Challenge – Final Thoughts

Whatever the challenges, Mobile HR BYOD seems to be here to stay for the foreseeable future; meaning HR, Payroll, and IT departments will invariably have to work together in order to reap the benefits without paying an undue price. On the brighter side though, Claudio Rodrigues (CEO of WTSLabs) sees BYOD as an opportunity for an IT evolution; stating “BYOD offers IT pros a chance to find new ways to help the business, and it puts users, IT, and management on the same team”. Indeed, this consumerized reinvention should be about aligning the tools that IT departments provide to users with what users actually want (as long as those tools make sense from a business standpoint). By embracing the Mobile HR BYOD trend rather than adopting a parenthetical head in the sand approach, organizations can enable productivity efficiencies, drive up employee engagement, and make flexible (but safe) mobile access to HR, payroll, and benefits information a part of this latest IT revolution. End

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Aside from the internal struggles that organizations’ IT departments face with regard to network access, support levels, etc., organizations going the BYOD route for HR, payroll, benefits and other business applications are facing a host of other challenges; including infrastructure, cost savings, and security.


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