Bring Your Own Device Will Usher in Bring Your Own Apps, Too

The workplace, and especially the virtual workplace of the distributed office, will inevitably see more and more workers embracing the “bring-your-own-device” model of enterprise IT hardware management. Tablets are affordable and increasingly commonplace; smartphones are fast replacing feature phones as the communication tool of choice of many consumers. Along with these post-PC devices will come another new trend that companies who use distributed teams should anticipate and prepare for: the era of bring-your-own-apps (BYOA).

The BYOA revolution is already underway, whether or not your IT department is prepared for it. Consider, for example, Geoff’s recent article about bringing your iPad 2 to work (s aapl). In the piece, he mentions a number of different applications, but they’re not ones that you’ll find on a typical enterprise software deployment list. Yet, as Geoff claims, each is indeed an app with plenty of potential as a workplace tool.

Why is BYOA a good thing for businesses? Because it cuts down on training time, helps employees feel invested in the technical side of doing business, and will eventually save money for businesses by replacing costly licensing fees with cheaper apps. The approach won’t work for everyone yet — especially as compliance and regulatory issues in some industries won’t allow it — but expect BYOA practices to become widespread enough that even regulatory bodies and standard-setting organizations have to adapt to deal with the consumer app invasion.

This BYOA approach to software selection at work may seem a bit too chaotic for traditional businesses, but anyone looking to do business on the web, especially those who depend on remote employees should seek to embrace and foster this trend, and look for ways to turn it to the business’ overall advantage. That doesn’t mean asking IT to watch what’s being used and then mandating it across all user devices. It does mean encouraging workers to share software tool recommendations and notes about usage of tools in a way that rewards app exploration and discovery, without feeling like an unnecessary and ungrounded imposition.

The app ecosystem is designed for consumers, and as such, a traditional IT software approach to their use won’t generate optimal results. By and large, it’s very hard to identify any single apps that have the kind of general acceptance and widespread use of Microsoft Office (s msft) on desktop platforms, for example. The “best” software is a category that changes with a fair degree of frequency, and gems are often unearthed through serendipitous discovery rather than methodical research. That’s why a BYOA approach should be encouraged. As long as the portability of the output and the security of the information used in the production of digital materials isn’t an issue, leaving teams and individuals to find the best tools for the job will more and more often be the better way to guarantee good results.

Won’t this lead to information fragmentation? Not if your teams work together in selecting their own tools. Businesses can set output expectations (we want deliverables from project X to be in such-and-such format), but keeping these as generic as possible and leaving process up to distributed individuals will ensure that platform and apps used are those  most suited for the job. BYOA also frequently involves less commitment and software lock-in. Solutions can be put into action to respond to a single need, and never be used again, if that’s what team members decide is best. So long as product outputs keep to generally accepted formats, ephemeral tools pose no short- or long-term threat to the preservation of information.

We are in the midst of a sea change when it comes to how information technology is deployed and used in the enterprise, and it’s not a shift that’s limited to hardware devices alone. Those devices represent new paradigms when it comes to software, too, and ones that aren’t necessarily compatible with the old-school enterprise licensing model of application deployment. Consumer devices and consumer apps will define the working generation to come, and the remote workforce will lead the charge.