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BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

© 2012 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine 

Information Technology (IT) is working through another radical metamorphosis, and the final appearance is not yet clear.  The ultimate cause is the nature of technology– it’s constantly changing!– but the current mutation is a result of The Cloud.  The issue at hand is BYOD; and it’s a wave that is just beginning.  There are management, legal, and even tax implications!  Let’s work through ’em…

What is BYOD?
In my firm’s engineering of LANs (Local Area Networks) we’re running into an increasing number of church and ministry staff that would prefer to bring in and use their own computer rather than the one provided by their organization.  Some are jokingly referring to this as SYOM– Spend Your Own Money!  Staff’s motivation is sometimes because the ministry-provided computer is older and slower; other times it’s because the platform of the user’s computer is more familiar and comfortable to the user (Windows vs Mac, for instance).  Traditionally the answer from IT has been, “No!” because IT Directors are being diligent about protecting the organization’s data– a very valuable asset.

But that traditional answer is starting to get a lot of pushback, and the trend is that the users will win in many cases.  IT Directors are having to look at ways to protect the organization’s data in new ways to accommodate this growing trend; and one of the solutions is in The Cloud.  There are methodologies being developed to help, and their strength is growing.

Is this a good thing?
That is a great question!  It can be for a couple of reasons, but it has a dark side too.

Software is becoming more platform independent, meaning it can run with similar strength in Windows, on a Mac, and in Linux.  That platform independence is feeding this revolution, and organizations like the fact that files will be available across all platforms, though formatting will likely be an issue at times.

Users can then justify their request by saying they will be more efficient and productive in their favorite operating system or platform.  Organizations will be able to reduce IT purchase budgets and simply give an allowance if so inclined, based on the user’s role in the organization.

The downside is that organizations will need to support users on more platforms, and some manufacturers don’t offer enterprise-friendly support options like next day on-site replacement of parts, etc.  This is requiring a shift within organizations’ IT departments.

What about software copyright & ownership?
Those of us who focus on doing everything with integrity are wrestling with this.  I recently had the opportunity to talk with tax and legal experts who focus on The Church about this, and I think we ended up in a place they felt comfortable with from a legal perspective and which is practical from an IT perspective.

The concern we discussed is that of how software is beginning to be distributed: via App Stores peculiar to the platform of the device.  Apple, Microsoft, Google, and others have their App Stores, and they are usually tied to the individual’s ID within that store.  So, for instance, when Apple recently offered its operating system upgrade to Mountain Lion, it meant I had to buy it through their App Store, download it, install it, and then seek reimbursement from my employer.  It’s the reimbursement part that has raised concerns over taxability and ownership.

Most apps purchased through App Stores are under $100.  We had full consensus that these were reimbursable without income tax implications even though their license was tied to the user’s personal ID, but only if it was for a bona fide work-related need and it was fairly inexpensive (i.e., under $100).  Some apps, like Adobe Creative Suite, still cost much more than that and should still be purchased by the organization directly and installed with their media (and uninstalled upon the termination of the work-related need).  Fortunately those types of apps are still distributed through a more formal process, like packaged CDs and DVDs.

Planning for BYOD
A colleague asked me recently what we’re recommending for hardware turnover.  I responded that because of BYOD it’s becoming a non-issue.  Here’s my thinking:

  • When advising customers to buy computers (servers, desktops, notebooks, etc), we normally say they’re good for about four years.
  • With BYOD on the horizon, we’re advising clients to purchase the computers they need, but to figure that by the time they’re ready for replacement, they may not need to replace them.
  • BYOD may be largely implemented within two years.

BYOD is growing, and exactly where and how it looks when it is more mainstream remains to be seen.  But the bottom line looks like it will be good for The Church.

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