Even IBM Is Struggling With BYOD

Posted on Posted in Articles, BYOD, Cost Savings, Mobile Device Management

“The trend toward employee-owned devices isn’t saving IBM any money, says Jeanette Horan, who is IBM’s chief information officer and oversees all the company’s internal use of IT. Instead, she says, it has created new challenges for her department of 5,000 people, because employees’ devices are full of software that IBM doesn’t control.”


IBM has had a BYOD program since 2010, and out of about 400,000 employees, they’re using 40,000 Blackberrys, and 80,000 other smartphones and tablets, some of them employee owned.

Some advantages that IBM has that you (probably) don’t:

  • Technology as core competency of the company
  • Internal tools – they sell their own MDM software and have their own cloud storage application, MyMobileHub
  • Scale

IBM is one of the earlier adopters of BYOD. What can other companies learn from their challenges?


“We found a tremendous lack of awareness as to what constitutes a risk,” says Horan. So now, she says, “we’re trying to make people aware.”

This includes a list of apps to avoid, such as Siri, and external file-transfer services, such as Dropbox or iCloud. Both apps transfer user data, either direct data like hosted files or indirect data like the full contact list transfered to Siri for voice matching purposes, to servers owned by private companies, and the enterprise may not agree with the terms offered by these provider companies. Not to mention these servers may be in foreign jurisdictions and therefore have legal ramifications that the enterprise may find unacceptable. Users are highly unlikely to understand the risks associated with these apps. IBM has it’s own cloud file transfer service, MyMobileHub, to get around these issues.

Employees base their decision to buy a device largely on UI and apps, including things like iCloud and Siri. Does this defeat the point of giving employees the choice to use an iPhone?

The article also mentions that employees are using smartphones to create open Wi-Fi hotspots, which could make data accessible by outsiders.


IBM employees are much more likely to be tech savvy than in most other companies. They would theoretically require less support for day-to-day issues such as accessing email, or help with specific applications. However, the additional security software and workarounds like MyMobileHub create more work and/or cost.


“The trend toward employee-owned devices isn’t saving IBM any money.” I would wager that it’s actually costing more. IBM has far more volume than the vast majority of companies, with which they no doubt negotiate best in class contracts with their vendors. For the employee owned devices, each user would pay for their own bill at much higher consumer rates, and expense it back to IBM. Even if a user expenses half of his bill, it’s probably still more than IBM would pay directly.

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