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'Bring Your Own Device' for Beginners

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Telework is rapidly changing the way the federal government works, and now federal agencies have a few new tools to expand mobility options for employees, thanks to the new “Bring Your Own Device,” or BYOD, guidance released by the White House on Thursday.

The guidance, which is part of the White House’s now three-month-old Digital Government Strategy, includes recommendations from a working group that studied the benefits of BYOD based on lessons learned from successful BYOD programs launched at agencies.

Some of those benefits include improved productivity and work-life balance among employees as well as significant cost savings. At the same time, BYOD presents agencies with a myriad of security, policy, technical and legal challenges, the working group found.

The guidance makes clear that agencies are not required to implement a BYOD strategy. But for those agencies that think the positives of BYOD outweigh its challenges, the new toolkit is a great place to start, Cindy Auten, general manager at Telework Exchange, said Friday.

“Just as with telework programs, each agency must evaluate its specific mission and business objectives to determine how to best design the program to ensure maximum benefits – the same goes for a BYOD program,” Auten said. “Agencies must evaluate if and how it makes strategic sense to implement and this toolkit provides a checklist of sorts to run through when making that decision.  It also offers examples of how several agencies have already tackled the issue.”

One of those examples includes the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which implemented a virtual desktop that allows a BYOD solution with minimal policy or legal limitations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also has implemented a BYOD pilot that allows employees to opt out of the government-provided mobile device program and install third-party software on their own smartphones that enables use of their personal devices for official work purposes.

Auten recommends that agencies looking to implement BYOD begin by finding a solution that works and determine if there is a need or demand for a BYOD program. “Determine which devices your workforce is already using or wishes to use – will those meet the needs of the job functions and roles of the agency?” she said. “What policies and solutions will you need to put in place to ensure employees have the right amount of flexibility and security?”

Another issue agencies need to consider is work-life balance, Auten said. For example, while improved work-life balance has been touted as a benefit of telework and BYOD, it can produce potentially negative results as well, particularly as employees may have a difficult time establishing work-life boundaries, Auten said. “As agencies roll out BYOD programs, they should proactively communicate the expectations and performance measurement policies to ensure that employees do not feel on-call all of the time,” she said.

Finally, Auten noted that BYOD is likely to be a way of the future for federal agencies, particularly as it becomes more widely accepted and potentially yields positive results.  

“As we continue to see budgets get cut, new IT consolidation requirements and increased mobility among the workforce, BYOD could become the norm,” Auten said. “Eliminating duplicate IT tools and allowing employees to securely use the devices that they are already most comfortable with seems to extract the best of two worlds colliding.”

Reporter Portrait for GovernmentExecutive.com

Brittany Ballenstedt writes Nextgov's Wired Workplace blog, which delves into the issues facing employees who work in the federal information technology sector. Before joining Nextgov, Brittany covered federal pay and benefits issues as a staff correspondent for Government Executive and served as an associate editor for National Journal's Technology Daily. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Mansfield University and originally hails from Pennsylvania. She currently lives near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where her husband is stationed.

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