Agencies remain cautious about BYOD

Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) mobile strategies might be the wave of the future, but for now many government organizations prefer to take a wait-and-see approach, a new survey shows.

Although smart phones, notebook computers and tablet PCs are coming to be seen as standard tools for mobile government employees, many agencies have chosen to provide mobile devices rather than allowing employees to bring their own, according to the survey, which was conducted earlier this year by the 1105 Government Information Group.

Sixty-nine percent of survey respondents said their agencies issue mobile devices to eligible agency employees, with 26 percent saying only agency-provided devices are allowed. In contrast, only 23 percent said their agencies had adopted BYOD policies, while 20 percent said their agencies had no official policy on employee-owned devices (see chart).

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BYOD has been a topic of much debate in the past year. On the one hand, agencies see BYOD as a way to get new technology into their employees’ hands as quickly as possible. It is also a way to save money because employees are often willing to share the cost of buying the device and service.

On the other hand, employee-owned devices are generally seen as coming with heightened security risks, especially the various types of malware that might be downloaded with email or commercial apps.

Agencies can take numerous steps to reduce such risks, such as doing a thorough sweep of each device before allowing it on the network and isolating government applications and data from the rest of the device. But at this point, many agencies, such as the Defense Department, plan to play it safe and stick with government-owned devices, at least for now.

DOD’s Commercial Mobile Device Implementation Plan, issued in February, suggests that the department’s policy could change once technology makes it more feasible to co-host enterprise and personal capabilities on one device.

“As the technology matures and is proven to meet DOD security requirements for the mobility environment, DOD CIO will monitor and generate the necessary DOD implementation policies to support BYOD,” the plan states.

The CIO Council also recommends a cautious approach to BYOD, particularly because of concerns about data loss.

In the Mobile Security Reference Architecture, released in May, the council recommends that agencies going the BYOD route consider sponsoring an employee purchasing program. Such an approach at least avoids the danger that employees might buy devices from unverified sources selling cheaper products that lack standard security measures.

Security is not the only concern when it comes to BYOD. According to the CIO Council, agencies also have begun to realize that BYOD policies must address the legal, privacy and financial issues that can arise if employees are using the same device for both work and personal purposes.

One nuts-and-bolts issue is the matter of reimbursement. To what extent should agencies cover the cost of their employees’ mobile devices and services? How do they decide what is fair?

According to analysts at Gartner, a market research and consulting firm, approximately half of BYOD programs in the private sector provide partial reimbursement for devices and services. The firm recommends that organizations subsidize the carrier fees but not the device itself, said David Willis, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

“What happens if you buy a device for an employee and they leave the job a month later? How are you going to settle up?” he said in a recent press release. “Better to keep it simple. The employee owns the device, and the company helps to cover usage costs.”

But the debate about government- vs. employee-owned devices also depends on which employees are being discussed. The 1105 Government Information Group survey found that in government agencies the biggest beneficiaries of government-owned devices are agency executives and senior managers.

On average, respondents said 70 percent of high-level officials were offered devices if they were out of the office frequently. That compares to 47 percent of operational support staff and only 41 percent of staff employees (see chart).

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If they can work out the numerous security and policy concerns, agencies might find BYOD to be a feasible way to extend mobile solutions to staff employees without the expense of providing them with agency-issued devices.

Smart phones overtaking laptops

More and more, when people hear the word “mobility,” the first thing they think of is the smart phone.

In reality, according to the 1105 Government Information Group survey, the laptop is still an important tool for most government employees who work outside the office on a regular basis. But the smart phone has become an important part of the mix.

Eighty-two percent of respondents said the smart phone was used by roving employees, with the laptop close behind at 78 percent. Tablets also are coming on strong, at 56 percent (see chart).

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But IDC, a market research and consulting firm, expects to see smart phones and tablets gain even more ground in the next several years. In fact, the firm predicts that tablet shipments will surpass portable PC shipments this year — and surpass all PC shipments, portable or otherwise, in 2015.


Methodology and survey demographics

Between May 13 and May 22, 2013, 206 subscribers of FCW, GCN and other 1105 Government Information Group publications responded to an e-mail survey about mobility trends in government agencies. Survey respondents were comprised of those with insight into their agencies mobile technology use and strategies. Beacon Technology Partners developed the methodology, fielded the survey and compiled the results.

Six out of 10 respondents were technology decision-makers (CIOs or other IT managers or professionals), while 40 percent were senior managers, program managers or other business decision-makers. Approximately 49 percent came from the federal government (32 percent civilian, 17 percent defense) and 51 percent from state or local government agencies.

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please email us at [email protected]