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Aircraft IT Operations - April/May 2013

Author: Alex Wood
This article appears in Issue 9: the April/May 2013 edition of the Aircraft IT Operations eJournal. For your own free subscription to the eJournal - click on 'SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE' for full details.

BYOD: a double edged sword?

Alex Wood, Marketing Manager at Point to Point considers the pros and cons for end users and the business

Hot topic

Without a doubt, ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) is a hot topic in industry and commerce and airlines and aircraft operators have not been exceptions to this trend. The explosion in availability of tablet devices has put high grade computing power within the reach of more people than ever before in a more convenient package than was true for earlier generations of technology. But not everybody will greet this development with unalloyed joy. IT professionals are wary of it even as end users are embracing it and vendors are trying to market it. It’s a subject that’s dividing opinion, with the security implications alone causing IT Managers to wake up in a cold sweat. For airlines and aircraft operators, subject to a number of safety, regulatory, business, technology and market pressures, those implications are even more outstanding.

Some clear benefits

There is one very obvious and visible benefit of the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ phenomenon. Productivity increases. Quite simply, user’s work better and increase productivity while feeling more content with the freedom to use their own devices. Also, with a greater degree of personal ownership and personal finance involved, employees take the time to maintain their beloved gadgets. From a corporate perspective, there’s the clear cost savings attributed to decreased levels of hardware replacements.


However, the most positive aspect of BYOD is entirely intangible. Fundamentally, BYOD allow employees to interact directly with IT in a positive sense. It reflects a proactive approach from IT departments, working with the end user rather than against them. Employees want to use the most appropriate device to help them do their job. You’re the Marketing Manager? OK, use a MacBook. Work in sales? Make the most of your tablet for taking notes in meetings. In airline operations, use your device to keep up with the latest conditional information that might affect this flight or the whole service. Nevertheless, we cannot be too starry-eyed about this phenomenon.

Notes of caution

When you think about the negatives surrounding BYOD, the issue of security is never far away. Data leakage and the risk of malware are the obvious problem areas that spring to mind. Additionally, although very few people will deliberately steal corporate data, there’s always the risk of leaving a tablet, laptop, phone etc. in the back of a cab. Importantly there is some great Mobile Device Management software around that seriously mitigates the risk of data theft.

One might think this issue is as simple as deciding whether to allow BYOD or not, but unfortunately it’s not as straightforward as that. Organisations need to decide whether to fully embrace the BYOD ethos or restrict it ever so slightly. For example, are you going to allow Android devices or just Apple? Some organisations suggest that Android’s open format makes it more susceptible to attacks, thus rendering the Google owned platform out of bounds.

Equally, where do organisations draw the line around the management and maintenance of personally owned devices? Parameters need to be clearly defined. If a device breaks, does IT fix it or is it a case of ‘take it to your usual technology retailer’? Similarly, if people have their own devices there seems to be an increased impetus to work outside traditional hours. As a result of this, employees expect 24/7 support when they can’t log in on a Sunday afternoon.

In addition, there is reluctance on the part of some employees around mixing business and pleasure. Whilst the majority of workers seem enthusiastic to embrace BYOD, it must be noted that some individuals are happy to just logon to their work device at 9am and log off at 5:30. In this case, it’s crucial for organisations to consider who should be included in any BYOD pilot. You wouldn’t necessarily want task workers in a call centre working off iPad’s, but you may want your flight crew and operations team to have that degree of flexibility.

Keep control with a management policy

One thing becomes increasingly clear when you ponder the implications of BYOD. Having some type of strategy, even if it’s relatively vague, is essential. Otherwise you’re going to start running into all sorts of issues. Slightly worryingly, recent research is suggesting that two thirds of organisations don’t have any BYOD strategy in place. Guidelines and expectations need to be set, as well as a degree of accountability.

To achieve this, it’s safe to say that BYOD and Mobile Device Management software need to go hand in hand. MDM needs to be more than a desirable add on, it should be a pre-requisite. Any sane IT professional should have some serious reservations about a company even considering BYOD without any type of Mobile Management security tool.

When working with clients, vendors and re-sellers need to help manage expectations and formulate a realistic strategy. From the customer’s perspective, it’s crucial to understand whether BYOD is achievable, necessary and scalable. There are risks around BYOD and IT organisations need to help customers weigh up the pros and cons. BYOD is a change in mentality – not just from the user’s perspective, but also to any organisation’s IT hierarchy.

Ultimately, IT in this day and age is about promoting flexibility. It’s hard to argue with the benefits of BYOD, especially when it emphatically endorses and encapsulates the notion of flexible working. 

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