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Larry Seltzer
Larry Seltzer
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4 Bogus Arguments For BYOD

Do you think that BYOD saves your company money? That it makes users more productive? There's more fallacy than truth to these arguments.

Do you think that employees bringing their own devices to work--a.k.a. BYOD--saves your company money? That it makes people more productive? There's a lot more fallacy than truth to these arguments. Here are some of the arguments and what's wrong with them:

For this story I was inspired by the writings of Brian Katz, head of mobility engineering at pharmaceutical giant Sanofi.

1. BYOD saves money.

You would think this would be true, but it's not so clear when you think the issue through. The issue isn't whether BYOD saves money, it's whether mobility makes money. It does, but do you have to go BYOD to go mobile?

Of course you don't. Philippe Winthrop of the Enterprise Mobility Forum is not a BYOD fan. He argues for the alternative model, which he calls COPE--Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled. The IT department provides you with a mobile device--any mobile device you want--as your work device. Instead of finding some safe way to put business functions on your personal device, they find some safe way for you to do personal functions on your business device. This is an interesting approach to the problem and one I plan to explore further in the future.

From the company's perspective there are several costs to consider: The cost of the device; the cost of the data and voice plans; and the cost of support. BYOD means the company doesn't have to pay for the device, but if you're only passing the device cost on to the employee and reimbursing for the plan, you're probably coming out behind. That's because any money saved on devices will be dwarfed by the higher cost of the reimbursed consumer data plan relative to the discounted cost you would get for a corporate plan, not to mention the administrative burden of expense reimbursement.

The support costs are complicated, of course, but in a BYOD scenario where the employee can pick any device, you can expect the devices to cost more than in a COPE scenario, which will likely have a limited range of devices, perhaps even one specific model. According to Katz, Sanofi supports any device, as long as it's an iPhone.

There are other costs, perhaps significant ones, that you'll encounter with either BYOD or COPE. One is a mobile device management system. For a large fleet, an MDM system easily can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Depending on how much work it all turns out to be, you might also need to hire extra help desk and IT people; Katz estimates, conservatively, two full-time-equivalent positions for every 10,000 users.

2. BYOD makes users more productive.

There's a kernel of truth in this one. The distinction is that it's mobile devices and the mobility policy at a company that make users more productive, not BYOD itself.

The productivity benefit itself is also semantically debatable. Survey after survey shows that if you allow employees to work on their mobile devices, they will do more work. The dark secret behind it all is that productivity isn't really at issue here. It's just that employees work more hours with mobile devices than without. In other words, we're not working more productively, we're just working more.

As Katz puts it:

Most studies show that workers who have been mobile enabled work at least an extra hour a day and on average work an extra seven hours a week. At the same time, some surveys show that, in general, people have trouble disconnecting from work when they go on vacation, with a whopping 52% saying they do some work while away.
That sure describes me, and it makes me feel like a real sucker, and yet I'm going to keep doing it.

3. The device is the employee's problem.

The device belongs to the employee so we'll save on support costs, right? (Yes, this a variation on the costs argument above, but my column-my rules). This fantasy won't last long. The fact is that you're expecting the employee to rely on that device to do his job, so it's your responsibility to keep it working.

You will end up supporting it. When you send an employee to Paris for an important business meeting and her iPad gets smashed or her phone gets dropped in a puddle and she can't do any work, the only sensible thing to do is to help her as best you can.

From there it's a short step to realizing that any problem that impedes the employee's productivity is a legitimate reason to help him.

4. BYOD helps employee retention.

This time I'll cite an article by Katz on Winthrop's site. The basic point is that the appeal of BYOD is not that employees get to use whatever hardware they want, it's that their company gives them tools to get their jobs done:

If you want to drive higher employee retention no matter whether they are millennials or any other group, learn to leave the legacy thinking behind and build a strategy that enables your employees to work any time, anywhere with the information they need to get their job done. In the end it leads to them being more productive, which means that as a company you should become more profitable. A win-win if I ever saw one.
From this it follows that you don't need to allow any device, you just need to have one of many good strategies and execute it well.

The bottom line on all this, as I see it, is that BYOD might make sense for your company, depending on your particular needs and circumstances and how you go about it, but there are many ways to go about a mobility rollout. Don't let yourself get steered into one way of doing it, because what's best for your company might be different from what's best for others. Don't be afraid to innovate.

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