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Opinion

Bring your own device or pay your own way?
Rob Bamforth By: Rob Bamforth, Principal Analyst, Quocirca
Published: 21st July 2011
Copyright Quocirca © 2011
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Selecting the right mobile business device is no longer a simple matter. When mobile phones just looked like phones and laptops were the only type of mobile computer with a “qwerty” keyboard the criteria most often used would be latest, lightest and largely the same (as each other ie consistency). Most 'road warriors' would be equipped with a ‘standard build’ of each device and the job of procurement/facilities departments would be to ensure that those who needed a particular device would get it.

This task has always been beset with challenges. In the past some employees would try anything to get upgraded to the newer (typically smaller) phones and the latest (typically better specified) laptops. With only a relatively small number of employees having mobile devices, there would often be a (possibly grudging) recipient for the hand-me-downs of those fortunate to benefit from upgrades. No wonder so many phones were ‘accidently’ dropped, driven over or lost.

How times have changed. Now far more employees have experienced the latest technology as consumers and expect to be well equipped with mobile devices at work. Most now want bigger phones with more features or functions and smaller laptops or even tablets with fewer.

However, according to a recent survey conducted by EMC owned Mozy, a specialist in online backup, some less desirable ways to get the latest hardware are still prevalent. This research looked into the rates of replacement for various IT devices and the reasons given by those in small and medium sized businesses; it produced some interesting results, especially for mobile phones. While 60% cited corporate process and a sensible business justification to get a new mobile, 13% would try to break their old device and 4% would claim the new one was for a (non-existent) new starter.

From the earliest business use of mobile phones, desire for personal choice may not have changed, but there are at least more acceptable ways for personal preferences to be achieved. The research also showed that 15% would go to a store to trade in and buy a new device in order to get the one they wanted.

This 'bring-your-own-device' (BYOD) approach has been gathering momentum in recent months, but does vary across regions, and acceptance depends on the size of the organisation. Small and medium sized businesses are more likely to be more tolerant of variety, whereas large enterprises like uniformity, standards, and commonality. This is particularly important when considering who is responsible for maintaining and supporting the various devices, and even more critically when dealing with the inevitable security concerns.

However there is a bigger issue that is often missed—ownership of mobile contracts. These have cost implications far larger than what’s included in the tariff, from intra-company phones calls, to the loss of economies of scale for corporate discounts. Simply allowing or encouraging employees to choose their own service provider as well as the devices themselves could introduce costs that far outweigh any perceived savings from not having to buy devices. UK based mobile communications management specialist, ttMobiles, predicts that companies adopting an uncontrolled BYOD policy could see overall company phone costs rise by 27%.

Anecdotal evidence suggests ever more sophisticated commercial models are becoming used to support personal choice, including providing employees with a mobile 'allowance' and then allowing them to top this up from their own funds in order to have a higher spec or more personalised preference. This further blurs the question of responsibility and liability associated with the mobile device, the software that is acquired for it and the data that may end up on it.

This in particular raises further issues, especially when the taxing complexities of write off or personal benefit are considered. There may be some slight tax pain for some employees, but most will happily pay to get their favourite device. Organisations however, strive to get the best lifetime book value out of their assets for the benefits of shareholders and need to ensure that, whoever does the choosing, the company accounts still look good.

A balanced approach that combines personal choice with corporate control and responsibility is now required. But while the old centralised control of 'standard issue or nothing' has gone out of the window, organisations will still need to monitor, mediate and manage employee mobile choices to a greater or lesser extent. This is especially important when it comes to selecting mobile contracts, where significant economies of scale can kick in, and the organisation is typically footing the monthly bill.

This issue is explored further in Quocirca’s report “Carrying the can” which is freely available for download.

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