A few years ago, corner-office executives got rid of their company-owned BlackBerry smartphones in favour of their own iPhones, and then demanded IT support them. Thus began the great march toward BYOD, or bring-your-own-device.
CIOs don't like to admit caving to executive whims, and so they've devised a recipe of BYOD benefits. But are they myths?
Chief among the BYOD benefits is cost savings. BYOD, the thinking goes, gets companies out of the hardware purchasing business and wireless management and support cycle. Another often cited benefit is that BYOD leads to employee productivity gains.
I spoke with Brandon Hampton, a founding director of Mobi Wireless Management, a software and services provider advising Fortune 100 companies on wireless strategies, for insights into the realities and myths behind BYOD.
Are companies saving money with BYOD?
Hampton: A lot of times companies jump into BYOD for two reasons: reduce the burden on their IT staff or shift some of the cost burden to the end user.
In a lot of cases, there are no cost savings. It just depends on what you do.
Typically, companies are going to issue some kind of stipend when they go to BYOD. There's probably some cost savings if the stipend is small enough, or if there's no stipend at all. But if you think that's really going to reduce your costs, I think you're mistaken.
I've also heard companies say that they want to get out of the cell phone business. Unfortunately, the problem is that BYOD has a lot of security needs and requires mobile device management.
Then there are more and more third-party apps to enhance the productivity of their mobile employees. Now you've got to support, deploy, update and troubleshoot these applications. People are still going to be calling you about these issues, not the wireless carrier.
You're not getting out of the cell phone business, no matter what you think. It's pretty unrealistic.
One CIO told me his sales team reaps productivity gains with iPads in the form of new sales, although their iPads are not under a BYOD programme. Can BYOD lead to an increase in worker productivity?
Hampton: It makes a lot of sense in some situations. If you've got an old-school environment with a lot of BlackBerrys yet users are bringing their own iPhones and want to carry only one device instead of two, there could be some uptick in productivity.
But in cases where you're a manager who has a laptop, tablet and a smartphone-not necessarily in a customer-facing role-I don't think there's a lot of productivity gain. I carry a tablet, and I'm always looking for an excuse to use it.
Very rarely do I hear that the company wants to increase productivity with BYOD. I question how much increase in productivity there really is. Frankly, I think it can do the opposite. Now you're relying on the end user to deal with issues that come up, such as dealing with wireless bills and spending time on the phone with carriers.
What are the most successful BYOD programmes you've seen and why?
Hampton: I have seen some very successful BYOD programmes.
One company, for instance, won a bunch of awards. They didn't go into it with the goal of cutting costs or reducing their administrative burden. In fact, they kept their budget and support staff the same. Their goal was to provide more choice to their users and create a more attractive workplace for new college graduates.
Devices have become very personal. Employees want to choose the same type of device they've always used. The way to give the greatest choice is through a BYOD programme. This can be good for industries that are very competitive for the brightest employees, such as law firms. It's an extra perk.
Also, companies with employees that need a phone maybe 20% of the time, not really key to their jobs, it may make sense to let them bring their own device and give them a $20 or $30 stipend.
But if a phone is mission critical with all the apps and data, I don't know how you can turn that into a BYOD device. The legal system hasn't decided who owns the data on an individual-liable device, even corporate data. It hasn't ruled consistently on this yet.
Mobi helps companies navigate wireless issues, even transitioning from corporate-owned devices to BYOD. How difficult is this transition?
Hampton: Frankly, the more complexity brought into an environment, the better for us. Some of these large, multinational companies have a ton of complexity.
We've found that the transition to BYOD can be the biggest stumbling block. They don't realise how labour intensive it is. We average about 20 to 25 minutes per user to convert from a corporate-liable to an individual-liable line-and we're good at it. If you've got a few thousand users, you can do the maths.
It takes a lot longer if you're going to port a phone number whereby the user takes their number with them, which many companies allow. The user has to establish an account with the carrier, and you have to be on the line with the user and the carrier. They have to sign off on the transfer of liability form. It usually takes two or three phone calls to do this.
Porting phone numbers can get dicey with salespeople, given that customers will become familiar with that number. Who owns the number?
Hampton: That's a real danger, absolutely. You the company don't own it anymore-it belongs to the user.
In our guide that helps companies transition to BYOD, one of the key things we mention is that you have to determine whether the number is an asset to you. If it's a salesperson, it probably is. If it's an executive assistant, it probably isn't.
I did hear recently of a corporate policy where the company had the right to take the number back. But I really wonder how they can pull that off.
This is one of the reasons why we don't see a lot of sales groups go BYOD.