Bring your own everything

The "bring your own" craze started with instant messaging but certainly didn't end there. Today employees are bringing the rest of their social network tools to work, their own smartphones, their own computers, and now, with the advent of Google Voice, their own phone number and voice mail.

JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for the BT Group, has it right when he says that IT's success increasingly will be measured by how well we give up control. After all, most of this is going to happen with our without IT approval, so you might as well try to channel the tide instead of fight it.

In the case of the newly available Google Voice, employees can choose a number and then go online to dictate how and when Google Voice calls are routed among their desk, cell and home phones.

That sounds harmless, but if employees circulate their Google Voice number to business associates (and they will -- why else sign up?), what happens when they take a job at a competitor? Customer calls will get routed directly to their new desk. And what are the compliance implications given Google Voice comes with voice mail that can preempt desk and cell mail systems,  and transcribe messages and deliver them as e-mail?

Then there is the iPad to consider. Apple sold 2 million of the devices in less than 60 days, and you can bet many showed up on corporate networks just as fast. In fact, the arrival of the iPad may force companies to consider "bring your own computer" (BYOC) programs before they wanted to.

BYOC is talked about a lot more than practiced, but there are converts. Kraft Foods, for example, started out with a BYO-smartphone last year and recently added BYOC for certain employees. The deal: the company specified purchasing guidelines and gives employees a stipend if they agree to some core policies and promise to take care of computer problems (the company offers some self-help tools).

What's holding back broader industry adoption of BYOC are nettlesome questions about who is responsible for what when problems arise. Can IT examine the device if they suspect any wrong doing? Can IT access data on the device if the employee quits? What if there is unlicensed software on the device?

Luckily virtualization technology may provide a neat answer to these and other questions: have BYOC adherents load a company supplied virtual machine. Everything in the VM is company property and properly locked down and backed up. Wash your hands of everything else. But the question of whether it is worth the time/effort/risk is still up in the air.

There is little question, however, that the "bring your own" trend will abate anytime soon.

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