Bring Your Own Device – more important now than ever!

Rob Blagdon, director of libraries, technology and information at the University of Gloucestershire, talks about his ‘bring your own device’ research and how it’s been adopted nationally by NHSX.

Rob Blagdon.PNGThe last six months have seen a huge rise in use of digital and a transformation in attitudes, particularly around red tape with a helpful push from national bodies to simplify guidance to make things easier for frontline staff.

In April 2019, after I graduated from the brilliant NHS Digital Academy, I embarked on a research project to study the use of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in the NHS and public sector. I encountered a wide range of views from one extreme (we’ll never allow that) to the other (we’ve fully embraced BYOD). But there is a harsh reality. People are using their own devices for work purposes and we all need to adopt an approach that recognises this is now a fact of life. 

Growth in the increased use of BYOD could include: staff now owning better technology than the organisation can provide; a more rapid replacement cycle for personal devices; freedom to install useful apps on own device; free choice to use a familiar device that works well for the individual rather than being squeezed into a one size fits all model. In my research I also came across articles that evidenced improvements in staff recruitment and retention where BYOD was included as part of the job offer.

Many organisations though have concerns that losing control of devices poses too great a risk and it’s easier to ignore BYOD. 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 officially permitted to do so. 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 they already are.

A survey I did of public sector BYOD policies attracted over 900 responses with only 38% of NHS respondents declaring they had a policy, however some 44% of trusts said they allowed BYOD but didn’t have a policy at all. Of those with policies, many were confusing and difficult to understand, often buried in long technical information strategies or IT security policies.

My research also revealed a bias towards BYOD in non-clinical roles and nervousness within some clinical teams. 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. 

My research found staff would be keen to use their own devices to access clinical information and update records. There was also a desire to use more video communication and access other work related documents in a more agile fashion. 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 help guide trusts towards procurement of technologies that can facilitate BYOD and new ways of working.

Having done the research and reviewed nearly 400 policies, I urge local organisations to recognise BYOD is here, it’s happening and it’s a good thing for the employees who want it. 

But you need to start a review of what is happening in your own organisation, and plan to produce a simple to understand policy on BYOD that is accessible for all of your staff. 

The new NHSX IG portal has some excellent guidance on BYOD, some advice and an example policy you could use as a template to get started. If you haven’t already, you could also consider installing some mobile device management (MDM) software to ensure the organisation has more visibility and control of what is happening. 

I was pleased that when NHSX was approached by a CCIO looking for a template policy on BYOD, they looked to my work and asked if they could use it - it’s really heartening to see your local work being adopted elsewhere.

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

  • ask your staff what the organisation's 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 but I’m sure your staff would appreciate more clarity – and the new IG portal and template guidance is the best place to start.

NHSX thanks Rob for his work on ‘bring your own device’ and agreeing for it to be used as part of co-designed national policy and guidance and on our website. ​This is a great example of the tech related guidance, templates and ideas we are crowd-sourcing to support the health and care system throughout the winter.  Email your ideas to guidanceideas@nhsx.nhs.uk

About Rob Blagdon

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. Prior to this he spent 15 years at 2gether NHS Foundation Trust, where he was deputy director of IT, which is where he developed this work. 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.