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Like so many trends that have been in the works for a while but have only recently been given a snappy name, it can be hard to pin down exactly how prevalent "Bring Your Own Device" really is – but the number of organizations that are taking stabs at finding out is revealing.

The term, of course, refers to the practice of allowing, or even encouraging, employees to bring their devices into the workplace. While that includes such mainstays as laptops, it's the emergence of consumer smartphones – really, pocket computers – and, more recently, tablets that have really brought the issue to the fore.

It's a subject of considerable interest for IT solutions providers, consultancies, and security firms, all of whom offer services than can help BYOD work in a corporate environment. Many start with one question: Just how prevalent is this?

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Indications are that it's rising: A Cisco survey of IT managers reported that 48 per cent said their companies would never authorize BYOD policies – though 57 per cent thought employees were using their own gadgets anyway.

In another survey, 81 per cent of 1,200 Americans said they had used personal devices for work. This was according to a Harris Interactive poll commissioned by ESET, a security software vendor.

Still another survey by Avanade, a joint venture of Accenture and Microsoft, found that 88 per cent of Canadian executives – and 87 per cent worldwide – said their employees are using personal technology for work purposes.

The fact that BYOD is on the rise might be self-evident. But the scramble to get a handle on the nature of the phenomenon turns up some counter-intuitive findings:

It's about flexibility, not Millennials

One of the most frequently mentioned selling points of BYOD is its appeal to younger workers who – reputedly – have more defined taste in gadgetry. Not so, says Avanade's study.

"The number one benefit of BYOD isn't retention, but changing the way people do their work, and enabling your employees to work anywhere," says Benoit Bertrand, Avanade Canada's chief technology officer.

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A full 71 per cent of Canadian executives who responded to the survey put employees' ability to work anywhere at the top of their list of upsides, with 49 per cent adding that BYOD policies made employees more amenable to working after-hours.

Personal devices are for more than e-mail and browsing

iPads and their ilk are most often associated with the basic consumer tasks of hunting through Internet content. But businesses that fully embrace BYOD also embrace these gadgets' abilities to serve as platforms for in-house applications – both ones that run over the Web, like CRM suites, but also custom-built, in-house pieces of software.

The Cisco survey of IT managers found universal agreement that custom tablet applications would benefit their business (granted that they're costly, as they don't program themselves), though 55 per cent of Canadian respondents said tablet users should be granted restricted access to company apps.

Avenade suggests that, in addition to CRM, time-tracking and resource-planning apps are becoming common uses for tablets.

Apple was the start, but not the end

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Until just a few years ago, employees could expect to be issued expensive gadgets in the workplace, which they might be lucky enough to take home – a shiny new BlackBerry, for instance.

Apple is frequently credited with sparking the move toward consumer products arriving in the workplace, and not without reason: iPhones were some of the first to make the reverse commute, from home to the office.

Apple still dominates the tablet space, but Android is the market leader for smartphones today: March figures from ComScore give Android 51 per cent of the smartphone market to Apple's 30.7 per cent and Research in Motion's 12.3 per cent.

BYOD is not the enemy

As the numbers suggest, the arrival of consumer electronics in the workplace is on the rise; the simple fact that many, if not most, adults now wear small computers on their person makes it inevitable.

Avanade said that two-thirds of Canadian executives consider making BYOD work a "top priority." The same study showed that, of the global survey, a full 84 per cent of executives thought it would be a "relatively simple matter" to integrate employees' devices into the workplace.

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Of course, when the same question was put to IT decision makers, that number dropped to 62 per cent. But for a notoriously pragmatic crowd, that's still a pretty good showing.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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