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Developers and users both have cause to celebrate BYOA and BYOC

Executive Editor Jan Stafford explores the benefits and challenges of the 'bring your own applications' and 'bring your own cloud' trends.

Entrepreneurial software developers and knowledge workers, like me, have reason to applaud the unstoppable wave of "bring your own applications" (BYOA) and "bring your own cloud" (BYOC). Volumes have been and are being written about the enterprise-IT problems posed by BYOA and BYOC, but the "woo hoo" factor for workers unhappy with complex enterprise apps and developers is the focus on innovation.

Email, calendar, storage and collaboration applications are chart-toppers in BYOC and BYOA, thanks to easy-to-acquire and easy-to-use apps such as Google Apps and Drive, Apple iCloud, Dropbox, Yammer, Skype and more. File sync and file sharing make up about 40% of self-provisioned apps, according to a recent Ovum global survey of 4,371 workers in businesses with 50 or more employees. Of those, 25.6% have brought in their own enterprise social-networking apps, and 30.7% instant messaging and Voice over Internet protocol apps.

The majority of employees bring their own cloud or apps to share documents between different devices, Richard Absalom, consumer impact technology analyst at Ovum, told me recently. "They want to be able to work on whatever device is in front of them," he said. "That's not surprising in a world with 2.8 connected devices per person."

BYOA = developer tools and opportunities

Application and cloud developers are staking claims in this BYOA gold rush, Absalom said. As in any gold rush, he said, "there is a one-in-a-thousand chance you might make a lot of money off your app." One successful tactic he's seen is developers paying up front to get their own app development on certain platforms.

Application and cloud developers are staking claims in this BYOA gold rush.

Richard Absalom,
consumer impact technology analyst, Ovum

Developers inside businesses have an opportunity to develop custom apps that fit the needs of employees who are bringing their own everything. "It's unlimited by imagination what you give people to use," Absalom said.

For years, developers have been bringing in their own tools -- mostly open source ones. Adding BYOC and Web services to the mix adds some risks, said Carl Brooks, a 451 Research analyst who specializes in cloud computing and IT infrastructure.

"Having devs communicate via a bunch of different email and scheduling and chat services isn't a problem. It's a good thing," Brooks said. "But having devs use different services, or even the same service, for critical stuff in differing fashions can be a huge hairball." One example: code-repository services such as GitHub. "If everyone on a project doesn't follow the same protocols, it can make a big mess," he said.

Standards for usage are imperative when a development team in a large organization brings in third-party, end-user tools for collaboration, Brooks said. "Any app that involves a single user can be left in the [user's] hands," Brooks said. Otherwise, rules are needed, especially around source-code control and planning.

Power to the 'BYO-ers'

When employees start sourcing their own applications to do their jobs, it's a clear indication that major software companies and business IT have failed to provide the tools and user experience they need, said Ovum's Absalom. While bring your own device is a result of advances in mobile technology, the BYOC/BYOA trend shows that in-house apps aren't working. Consider that only 13% of BYOA users in Ovum's survey would choose existing business apps and services over outside ones.

The "bring your own" movement is also a call for businesses to build or buy applications that are user- and user-device-friendly. Adopting the brought-in apps can help organizations meet users' needs and get control over their application and cloud/Web-services portfolios. In 2012, 76% of the 1,200 small and midsized businesses surveyed had chosen to use employee-based applications, according to Edge Strategies research conducted for cloud service provider LogMeIn.

I have been a knowledge worker since the 1980s, when the majority of companies began using software. I'm a witness to the evolution of business applications that were intuitive, easy-to-use and effective to becoming applications that are much too complex and that actually slow down the processes. With each training session on a new release of a once-simple point tool, I've seen complexity increase. Sure, some extra features might have been helpful, but using them didn't become easier and productivity has suffered.

I empathize with "BYO-ers"; in fact, I kind of am one. In 2007, I used a Flip videocamera to shoot informal videos at a Linux conference and the Flex software to edit that blog-bound video. (I still mourn Flip's demise.) I was happy when a project manager brought in Google Docs for planning, documentation and collaboration. As an Excel hater, I enjoy Google Docs' ease of both use and making changes. Gee, multiple people can update a Google spreadsheet in real time easily. Take that, Excel! Here's the caveat: All this "BYO-ing" was done with company permission, and none of it involved sensitive data.

Unfortunately, many BYO-ers don't get permission -- and do create security risks when document sharing. Also, BYOC and BYOA evangelism can prove to be counterproductive, Brooks and Absalom said. Brooks noted that evangelists may spend enough time training others on their brought-in services and cloud to hurt productivity. He's seen this happen with bring-your-own Sharepoint, Evernote, automated code review services and more.

"Watch out for enthusiasts," Brooks said. "Let people use what they 'brung with 'em' themselves; but the really important [enterprise] tools, apps and processes should not be up for debate."

Ah, life is rough for those of us who are enthusiasts, but we mustn't let all the warnings stop us from looking for a better mousetrap. We just have to make sure that we, our co-workers and our companies don't get caught in it.

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Does your organization have BYOA or BYOC policies governing employee use of outside applications or cloud services?