Bring Your Own Device – more important now than ever!

Bring Your Own Device – more important now than ever!


The last six months has seen a myriad of changes in how we live and work, and our reliance on technology has ratcheted up to new levels enabling essential services to keep operating. That old saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ is as true now as it ever has been, becoming the motto in many board rooms and IT departments up and down the country. Many of us will have seen a transformation in attitudes during the pandemic with red tape and bureaucracy reducing alongside a nationally more permissive (but diligent) approach being encouraged.

I was one of the privileged participants in cohort one of the brilliant NHS Digital Academy and decided to continue into the MSc year. In April 2019 I embarked on a research project to study the use of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in the NHS and public sector to try and find out how organisations were responding to the exponential growth in the phenomenon. There were a wide range of views from one extreme (we’ll never allow that) to the other (we’ve fully embraced BYOD).

There is a harsh reality some would rather deny, people are using their own devices for work purposes and we need to adopt an approach that recognises this is now a fact of life.

            Some of the reasons for the rapid adoption of BYOD include: consumerisation of technology resulting in staff owning better technology than the organisation; more rapid replacement cycle for personal devices; improved productivity features on new devices; increased morale and motivation when permitted to use own device; freedom to install useful Apps on own device; free choice to use a familiar device that works well the individual rather than being squeezed into a one size fits all enterprise model.

In my research I came across articles that evidenced improvements in staff recruitment and retention where BYOD was included as part of the job offer.

            For many organisations there are concerns that losing control of devices used within the organisation poses too great a risk and it’s easier to ignore BYOD – but do so at your peril. In a Twitter poll over 80% of respondents said they should be able to use their personal devices for at least some work tasks. NHS Trusts who did not allow BYOD similarly responded saying it was 92% likely or very likely their staff were using their own devices despite not being permitted! Digital Health published an article in 2018 detailing a survey which found ‘97% of surveyed doctors routinely send patient information on instant messaging without consent, despite the fact 68% were concerned about sharing information in this way.’ Clearly there is an issue and the NHS requires new tools which support flexible ways of working to reflect modern communication needs. If these new tools aren’t centrally deployed the crowd will source their own and in many cases already are.

      A survey of public sector BYOD policies attracted over 900 responses with only 38% of NHS respondents declaring they had a policy, more worryingly 44% of Trusts said they allowed BYOD but didn’t have a policy at all. Of those whom did have policies, many were confusing and difficult for users to understand, many were buried in long technical information strategies or IT security policies. I was impressed with Trusts that had a policy stating BYOD was not allowed – but the research suggests BYOD will still be happening. There is an absolute need to keep confidential and patient data secure and organisations should seek solutions that enable modern data sharing and communication options. My advice would be to assume BYOD exists in your organisation and understand how and why, and then build policies and systems which embrace secure flexible working.

This piece would be remiss not to mention the bias revealed by the research towards BYOD in non-clinical roles and nervousness within some clinical teams. BYOD is probably simpler for office-based staff and these cohorts are likely to have more control over their working hours. For senior clinicians there was concern BYOD could bring yet more demand to their hectic schedule with an expectation they would be ‘always on’ and their need for downtime disregarded. Therefore, BYOD has risks for specialist teams and boundaries and expectations need to be explored and clearly articulated.

The figure below shows survey feedback of tasks currently done on own devices (in blue) and what the uptake would be in services if made available in the organisations (in red). It’s interesting to note that with more BYOD there was a suggested 3% drop in voice and text messaging as (assumedly) users would be able to access and update information without asking someone else to do it for them. There is clearly a desire for access to patient records if a secure solution can be provided and the recently published NHSX Clinical Communications Framework will surely help guide Trusts towards procurement of technologies that can facilitate BYOD and new ways of working.

In my research I reviewed nearly 400 policies, most of them weren’t clear on BYOD even though the organisations who sent them said it was their main policy on the use of personal devices. My plea to all organisations is recognise BYOD is here, it’s happening and it is a good thing for the employees who want it – so don’t block it because staff will find workarounds if you do. Start a review of what is happening and plan to produce a simple to understand policy entitled BYOD that is accessible for all of your staff. If you haven’t already consider installing some Mobile Device Management (MDM) software to ensure the organisation has more visibility and control of what is happening. Here is some advice and an example policy you could use as a template to get started. You’ll find further guidance on BYOD on the new IG portal.

If you’re still not convinced about BYOD why not try this exercise:

— ask your staff what the organisation policy is on use of BYOD;
— ask your staff if they ever use their smartphone for work tasks.

My guess is you’ll get a range of answers and your teams would appreciate more clarity.

The pandemic has presented challenges in every walk of life but it has enabled digital transformation at pace like never before. I believe there is an opportunity to intentionally migrate to BYOD or CYOD (Choose Your Own Device), decentralising traditional IT models, expediting equipment setup and reducing costs – but that’s probably for a future blog! Thanks for reading.

Rob Blagden was a co-creator of the NHS Digital Academy in cohort one. He now works as the Director of Libraries, Technology and Information at the University of Gloucester. He still has strong links with the health community and is a Trustee for a local mental health charity TIC+. Rob has recently produced specialist software to support high quality online learning with multiple webcams called LecturePRO and he is starting to work alongside digital health start-up Tektology to explore how digital transformation of health, care and wellness can be better informed, supported and progressed. Rob is a kidney transplant recipient and often talks about his experience as a patient and the impact digital has made in managing a long-term condition.

Rob Blagden