February 11, 2013 – The mobile workforce has arrived, but the peak debates over device ownership and control are probably a few years off, according to a new mobile workforce analysis from Forrester Research.

In the “2013 Mobile Workforce Adoption Trends,” Forrester VP and Principal Analyst Ted Schadler collected and assessed survey responses from 9,766 information workers at SMBs and enterprises in 17 countries, including the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

People using three or more devices – primarily personal computers, tablets, smartphones and laptops – took up 29 percent of the global workforce last year, an increase of 6 percent from 2011, according to Forrester. This group of highly mobile and connected workers is expected to continue strong growth and “top out” at approximately 50 percent by 2017, according to Schadler’s estimates. Driving that growth is the global use of tablets, from a base of 210 million tablets in use last year to more than 900 million worldwide within five years, with many of those tablets used at least in part for business. In essence, Schadler says, “the more IT provisions, the more likely people are to use them in multiple locations.”

“Basically, all the people that can work in multiple locations, will,” says Schadler.

Of the information workers in the survey, one-quarter globally participate in bring your own device work practices in some fashion, according to Forrester. How BYOD will “peak” depends on your definition of employee devices. As Forrester and Schadler put it in the report: “If you define BYOD as employees paying, then we may be reaching the crossover point where your company pays for more smartphones than employees do. But if you define BYOD as employees choosing the devices they need for work, we are just getting going.”

In terms of enterprises paying for devices picked by mobile employees, Schadler expects BYOD to reach its peak within the next few years. Schadler already sees this BYOD trend maxing out in some instances in the leading edge sales reps for pharmaceutical, manufacturing and financial services. More tricky is how controls over those devices continue to play out. At the core of the governance and security issues with BYOD, Schadler sees organizations at the crossroads of a situation where employees don’t want IT control, while IT requires more control, though they are pressured by the number of applications and investments.