Patrick Gray touched off a firestorm of controversy (at least in the TechRepublic world) with a posting about “The Biggest CIO Challenge of 2010“, BYOT – Bring Your Own Technology. The idea is that IT organizations should get ready to support a hodge-podge of user-supplied, user-purchased, user-selected technology. He even rattled off a couple big name companies that were embracing it, implying that everyone should.

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, when it comes to tether devices such as PDAs or cellphones, I am a strong proponent of personal choice. I was very proud of the fact that we supported an unrestricted number of smartphone devices at AirFiber as early as 2000. Perhaps it was a knee-jerk reaction against the stringent standards lockdown of my previous employer.  I was even ridiculed in print for this in a trade rag, after a PR interview ‘favor’ turned into a blindside hack job. But I had the last laugh, because I think the cellphone personal-choice issue is more a rule rather than exception these days.

But extended to laptops and desktops? No way, and it will be hard to convince me otherwise. Forget the issues of data integrity and software license management on personal choice machines. From an IT asset management standpoint, I agree those are huge, but my resistance lies in the more practical…

Gray’s foundation was that in an increasingly tech-oriented MySpacey Twitterpated world, people are capable of selecting what they want and would be more attached to something they had a personal investment in. That’s all fine and dandy. But just because someone can buy something does not mean they can support it.

No matter how much you CYA in a BYOT agreement between IT and user, when the **** hits the fan, a computer problem is still going to be an IT problem. There’s always going to be an executive that left his power supply and home and needs another one pronto, or a harried sales manager with a customer presentation on a fritzed hard drive that he expects to be fixed. There’s no way IT can maintain the spares inventory (and possibly even the well-trained manpower) to accommodate an infinite number of brands/platforms. Point to some bizarre TOS/MOU, even if signed and notarized, and say “sorry, but BYOT and you accepted the responsibility”? Yeah right, that will go over like a lead balloon. A dead PC will always be seen as an IT responsibility, no matter who bought it.

A standards-based company-provided system can offer choice and yet still contain the problem-space to something more reasonable to support. Economies of scale, increased buying power, and a manageable parts inventory are much more important to the bottom line than a touchy-feely anything goes policy.