BYOD? Sure! BYOPC? Not so fast...

The forces that propelled use of employee-owned smartphones and tablets don't apply so much to PCs and Macs

The notion of bring-your-own devices is common at most companies; according to research firm estimates, two-thirds to three-quarters of all companies now allow people to use their own mobile devices for work, meaning at least for email access. We should expect companies to allow the same for PCs, right?

Yes and no.

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Bring-your-own PCs have been around as long as there have been PCs -- aka the home computer. People have been taking work home with them (that's why all those lost USB sticks and CDs end up causing embarrassing breach notifications) and accessing email from home since the mid-1980s. That's BYOPC, even if it's been widely ignored in official IT circles.

But today's BYOPC means something else: employees buying their own PCs for use for work as well as for personal needs. Some organizations have been experimenting with that BYOPC notion for years, in fact. It's been driven mainly by executive-level employees who want to use a Mac, which few companies historically allowed outside of specific functions like marketing or development. Those initial exceptions sometimes translated into a more programmatic experiment.

Those experiments typically were about choosing your own PC from an approved list, as well as getting greater admin rights or flexibility, such as the ability to install your own software, often at the price of providing your own tech support. Many companies, especially tech firms like Cisco Systems, Intel, IBM, and BT, have adopted choose-your-own programs and provided flexibility in terms of personal software and usage for employees who travel a lot. 

That approach to PC flexibility is likely to grow. But not strict BYOPC, says Chriz Hazelton, a mobile analyst at 451 Research. He notes several reasons why BYOPC is not a natural follow-on to BYOD.

PCs cost too much to expect most employees to bear the expense for work. Business-class laptops cost $1,000 or more, which is of a very different scale than the $200 to $300 for a smartphone, at least in the United States where nearly all smartphone are bought with carrier subsidies. iPads and other tablets cost between $500 and $800 for well-equipped models, closer to a laptop's price, but Hazelton notes that most BYO tablets used for work are bought primarily for personal access and the work capabilities are a convenience, not a necessity. He also notes that companies typically buy iPads directly for employees who need work tablets.

Management tools for hetereogeneous PCs aren't really up to snuff yet. Although a variety of vendors offers tools to manage PCs similar to how mobile devices are managed, Hazelton says they're not able to manage PCs at the level IT expects. He sees such products as placeholders for future capabilities, and he contrasts them with the widely used management tools designed to work with corporate-issued PCs that have standard images and applications, as well as known hardware configrations. Apple has updated OS X to use iOS's management APIs, which makes it easier to manage Macs, no matter who buys them, but that doesn't help manage BYO Windows PCs.

IT won't easily give up something it's managed and owned for two decades. Yes, the first PCs adopted by businesses in the mid-1980s were typically BYO, or at least departmental purchases. But by the 1990s, IT had taken over PC management and issuance at larger companies, and its retained that ownership since. "Computing overall is moving in the direction where the device doesn’t matter, but current IT cares a lot about the platform today for security and management," Hazelton says.

Although BYOPC isn't likely to be as widespread as BYOD, Hazelton sees some areas where it makes sense:

  • For organizations that use hoteling, where employees have no fixed office but instead sign up for a desk when at a company facility, and where the standard-issue computer is a thin client. Allowing BYOPC would make sense because, unlike thin clients, the PCs could be used for a mix of personal and work functions that mobile employees are reasonably gong to need to do.
  • The same applies for employees who essentially live on the road because, again, work and personal are so intertwined.
  • Organizations not yet comfortable with making Macs a standard option. They could allow BYO Macs, perhaps with a managed virtual machine running Windows for work functions.

In the meantime, BYOPC is likely to really mean "home PC."

This article, "BYOD? Sure! BYOPC? Not so fast...," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.