For at least 2 1/2 years, several of us here have engaged in an ongoing (albeit occasional) debate over the idea of providing a stipend for employees so they can purchase the hardware of their choice. In theory, this should result in happier employees and free IT from expending lots of resources on procuring and supporting hardware.
Yes, to make this model of employee-owned hardware work, employees will need to support the gear themselves. Unless, of course, you're Google, which apparently allows employees to download their own software and choose from several different types of PCs and operating systems -- and then supports it all. (Or at least it did in 2008, when the Wall Street Journal interviewed former Google CIO Doug Merrill.) This actually increases IT support costs, but presumably results in happy employees.
Pleasing employees rather than cutting costs is becoming the dominant argument for employee choice. In a post on the Wall Street Journal, Gary Hamel portrays IT professionals as spoilsports who, with their insistence on standardized technology, prevent employees from indulging in innovative activities that would presumably make the company money. Making a similar point in a more even-handed fashion, Gartner last summer noted that while employee-owned hardware would increase a company's costs, it should reduce user complaints about inadequate hardware. From a Gartner news release:
Although it would be difficult to quantify through a cost-benefit analysis, a happier user is generally considered to be more productive.
Lost in these kinds of arguments is the acknowledgement that employees can wreak some real havoc, by unwittingly introducing security risks or by just doing a poor job of keeping their machines up and running. Virtualization can help allay some of those concerns, as IT Business Edge's Mike Vizard noted last month. But it's not a panacea.
Based on his bio, I suspect Elliot Ross, author of the "A Dime a Dozen Small Business, Tech and Talk" blog and an IT manager at Independent Learning Systems, is familiar with virtualization. It isn't really clear from his post whether virtualization could have solved some, if not all, of the problems he's experienced with user-owned technology. In the scariest -- and costliest -- example, an employee took down the company's e-mail server by configuring a three-way data synchronization with the server, his iPhone and his Google calendar. It took three days and $10,000 to rebuild the server, restore the data from backup tapes and use database tools to clean up the corruption.
While IT pros can sometimes be overly cautious, I hope Ross' post will make people realize they generally aren't the impossible control freaks they are sometimes made out to be.