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Sense and Sensibility of enterprise IT policies

From time to time I come across a sort of dispute or even sometimes war at companies of every size: the central IT department tries to impose a certain hardware or software policy on the coworkers they are entitled to take care of.

Every time this happens there are discussions of BYOD vs. company owned devices. The IT departments claim that they can’t guarantee a certain service level, when they don’t have access to the resources used by the coworkers. The supporters of BYOD argument that using their own chosen hard- and software augments productivity and satisfaction.

I have to confess that I’m a strong campaigner for using my own devices and software at work. But to get some insight into this topic we need to separate different requirements determined by the type of job the employees do:

  1. Office workers need to get things done. With standard tools. They often are happe to have someone to call if things don’t work like expected or needed.
  2. Software engineers use their (mostly) laptops to build software. They need some control over the environment they work in. Libraries, databases, IDEs, operating systems. They choose the tools hat get the job done. When things don’t work they are able to fix problems by themselves.

These two roughly separated requirement profiles are opposed by two sorts of enterprise environment:

  1. Proprietary systems and protocols chosen by the IT departments because they know these systems very well and know how to get support from the provider. Things in this category may contain: Microsoft products (Windows, Exchange, …) or enterprise groupware systems like Novell Groupwise, Lotus Notes etc.
  2. Open protocols and services offer similar options but with a different type of maintenance.

Both approaches require nearly the same amount of maintenance but of different types. Proprietary systems often offer poor support to clients offside of the mainstream. For example have you ever tried to connect an Apple laptop to a Novell file share? Don’t try. You’ll get mad about getting the right client tools, software incompatibilities and stuff like that.

So there is a natural match for BOYD environments: use standardized protocols and services like NFS, SMB (which both have their origin in proprietary systems …) or mail protocols like SMTP and IMAP.

If your users would like to work without tinkering with software or services: use a centralized management system. This doesn’t naturally contain closed source and proprietary tools. But often it does.

For a company with technologically apt users it’s better to adopt the BOYD way to maximize productivity and user satisfaction. The latter often is no valid point with IT service departments. Then it’s the job of the people whose job it is to provide a suitable working environment for happy colleagues to make the service departments to work they way they are supposed to work.

This seems to be a particular problem in Germany where I often enjoy contact to IT service departments featuring a very self-centric philosophy. The notion of being a service department to help others do their job is not very popular.

Several studies show that companies are seen as more attractive to new employees when they allow BYOD policies.

On the other hand there are security considerations to be taken into account. But I don’t know of any company owned system that prevents willful or even lazy security breaches.