Unpacking Terry Halvorsen’s 3 reasons for pursuing BYOD

Bob Stevens contends that the Pentagon's test program is proof of BYOD's importance.

soldier using tablet pc

When the Department of Defense starts testing a BYOD program, you know the tables are starting to turn.

DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen spoke in March about the need for BYOD, announcing that finding a solution to employees bringing their own devices into the workplace is necessary and in his top three priorities.

Halvorsen named a number of real, honest reasons for why we need these types of programs integrated, now, into the government workflow: having a productive workforce, saving money, and recruiting new talent. They make sense from a birds-eye view, but let’s take a deeper look at why they are so crucial today.

Making employees productive

Imagine the scenario: You’re an employee working for the DOD. You are under high security-scrutiny, you can’t bring your phone onto your agency’s premises, and you likely can’t even access Wi-Fi when you’re in the office. But, in your life outside of work, you’re used to being always connected.

You might even be addicted to your phone. A Time survey of more than 5,000 participants across eight countries reveals that one in four people check their phones every 30 minutes. One in five check it every 10 minutes.

We love our mobile devices.

The private sector quickly realized that people bringing their phones into the workplace helps them seamlessly move from home-life to work-life, being more flexible and able to use the products they already love to make them more productive. The same study suggests that 76 percent of Americans find being “constantly connected by technology mostly helpful” as opposed to "a burden." It also boosts morale. Being "always on" is a way of life people are used to and to make them run out to their car at lunch to feel that connection creates distraction. Boosting morale, in turn, also increases productivity.

Saving money

When you’re given a device in the government you can pretty much assume you're going to have it for five or more years. That’s far off the pace of consumer device turnover in the U.S.

Americans, on average, upgrade their phones every 22 months, according to a study from Recon Analytics looking at 2013 data.

Even if the device lifecycle slowed from there, it’s still a much shorter timeline than anything you'd find in the government today. On top of that, federal agencies will be hard-pressed to keep up with service plans. The fact is, the government needs employees to pitch in to keep costs down.

Consider the iPhone: Apple releases a new version of its smartphone every year. The latest version, the iPhone 6, costs $200 with a service plan. Without a service plan, the iPhone 6 could run you nearly $600. The DOD has millions of employees; even the low-end specs there are staggering.

And the government won’t want just any phone running on its systems, so without a BYOD program that can help the government set policies on what kinds of phones and versions of operating systems can connect to its network, federal IT managers could find themselves stuck footing a very expensive bill if they want to make their workforces as mobile as the private sector employees they’re trying to recruit.

Hiring Millennials     

And recruiting is an issue. Federal agencies are not the only ones who want young, technologically savvy millennials in their workforce. If the government wants to look like an attractive option, providing mobile working environments is going to be key.

Let’s pull up that Time study one more time. It states that three-quarters of 25-to-29-year-olds actually sleep with their phones. These aren’t people who are happy to leave their device in their car and run out to check messages at lunch. They want access now and throughout the workday.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce in 2030. And not only do we expect numbers of millennials in the workplace to grow, they are already hugely represented in today’s workforce. If we want to capture their interest, we need to begin considering their lifestyles.

But BYOD is scary

Yes, BYOD is scary, especially for those organizations like Halvorsen’s that literally have people's lives on the line when it comes to breaches. But we can’t continue to have our heads in the sand. From a security perspective, it’s necessary to protect mobile phones and not keep people in the digital dark.

None of these reasons for BYOD are new, but they are compelling. They are proof points the private sector has used for years to justify their BYOD programs, and it has worked. It's time to embrace technology, understanding that its benefits may very well outweigh the consequences -- and we can severely reduce the consequences with a good BYOD program in place.