BYOD: A Cost Saver or a Curse?

At first blush, bring your own device (BYOD) sounds like a gift for budget-minded organizations.

After all, if employees offer to use their personal computers and communication devices for work, that’s less money for computer gear coming out of an enterprise’s capital-expense budget. Employees also get to use their preferred hardware, and some organizations report this can result in overall higher employee morale.

But is it really a bargain? What about the IT department, which will have to manage and secure a wide range of new devices, from notebook PCs and smartphones to tablets and even consumer-oriented iPod Touch digital assistants — not to mention the many operating systems and applications trying to access sensitive corporate data?

While there are pros and cons that come with the trend, many high-profile organizations are adopting BYOD policies, allowing workers to use the computing machine of their choice. While such policies may require some changes in corporate strategy, they can result in a number of benefits, including increased productivity, lower support costs and a simplified infrastructure.

BYOD Benefits

Large enterprises offering liberal device policies include CARFAX, Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble, all of which offer incentives to induce employees to bring their own mobile devices into the workplace.

CARFAX, for example, gives staff interest-free loans to purchase new computers. And Kraft and Procter & Gamble plan to let staff buy or bring their own PCs and notebooks to the office.

Even the federal government is jumping on the bandwagon. The Veterans Affairs Department has announced plans to begin letting staff use iPhones and iPads to access its networks this fall.

Last year, a senior White House technology official floated the idea of the government using stipends as part of larger initiatives to reduce IT costs and help agencies migrate more services to cloud-computing environments.

“While gaining acceptance, there’s an increased complexity from managing all those devices and versions of software, and complexity is the enemy of total cost of ownership,” says Jack E. Gold, president and principal analyst with the consulting firm J.Gold Associates.

The reality is that many IT managers are under pressure to develop BYOD policies that address these security and complexity issues — and to do so quickly.

“Two years ago, device management meant deploying a line of business applications for the field sales group,” says Mark Jordan, senior product manager for mobility at Sybase, which includes mobile management solutions within its software portfolio. “Now, organizations may have to manage 20 or 30 apps each, for several thousand users across different departments.”

Mobility experts and veterans of BYOD initiatives say the answer is to understand the business needs of the organization and then devise a plan that balances corporate governance and employee choice.

New Thinking Required

How significant is the BYOD trend? One measure to look at is how workplace smartphones are being provisioned. Forrester Research says employees choose their own smartphones 70 percent of the time, with 48 percent of the devices picked without regard for IT support. That means only 22 percent of the smartphones used at work in the United States are delivered as a take-it-or-leave-it device by IT, the analyst firm says.

The consumerization of IT is upending the control that IT departments used to enjoy when they could enforce corporate standards for specific PCs and operating systems. But mobility changes all that, because employees routinely use the latest and greatest devices outside of the workplace and can become dissatisfied quickly with a corporate standard if they view it as inferior to their personal options.

What’s more, some mobile renegades will deliberately flaunt corporate guidelines. They will bring in rogue devices that IT doesn’t even know are on the network — let alone manage.

A well-crafted BYOD policy can help incorporate employee preferences into a sound management policy. But many enterprises are motivated by more than a desire to quell employee uprisings.

Cut Down Expenses with BYOD

Organizations can see some clear business benefits through creation of a workable BYOD strategy, including reduced capital expenses. For example, Forrester reports that more than half of the nation’s workforce now pays for all or some smartphone use at work, picking up the cost of all or a portion of associated data plans.

Citrix Systems has analyzed the financial impact of BYOD since it launched its own internal program three years ago. It now pays 15 percent of its employees a $2,100 stipend to buy and use a notebook of their choice. But along with that, employees must purchase a maintenance contract from the device supplier, which means the Citrix help desk does not support these employee-provisioned devices. And that’s where Citrix sees monetary savings.

The company estimates that procurement and support costs for notebooks boost the TCO to about $2,600 for equivalently priced systems it requisitions. The bottom line: BYOD saves Citrix about $500 per device over three years, according to Michael McKiernan, vice president of business technology.

With another 10 percent of the staff participating (without a stipend), nearly a quarter of Citrix’s staff now uses BYOD notebooks. That number is likely to increase as new hires are brought into the program and current participants renew their participation after three years. (Stipend recipients are charged a pro-rated fee if they leave the company sooner.)

Citrix provides a BYOD stipend only for the purchase of a notebook, not other mobile devices. “We ran the numbers for smartphones and tablets, and because of discounts we receive, it’s not economical,” McKiernan says.

BYOD Instills a Sense of Accountability

Some additional BYOD benefits beyond financial savings are rippling throughout enterprises. A large pharmaceutical company reports the volume of Tier 1 help desk calls is less for employee-owned devices, says Sean Ginevan, product manager for MobileIron, which supplies a mobile-device management (MDM) solution to the company.

“If this is my phone, and I tweaked it just the way I want it within organizational security bounds, I’m going to be more willing to try and fix it before I call the help desk,” he says. “This isn’t a corporate laptop where as soon as there’s one little hiccup, I throw up my hands and say ‘IT, this is your device. Figure out how to fix it.’”

Personal responsibility may extend to security practices as well. “There are fewer issues with personal devices than with corporate laptops,” McKiernan says. “People better take care of these devices when they own them.”