When I met Gary Lee, CTO of Carfax, at the MidMarket CIO Forum in Florida last month, I was impressed by his company's forward-thinking stance on technology. The company's plan to introduce an employee-owned PC program, in which employees would receive stipends to purchase their own PCs for work, struck me as progressive. Desktop virtualization would allow enterprise applications to coexist with apps not approved for corporate use.
About a third of the company's 500 employees already participate in a program in which the company provides interest-free loans to buy PCs for their personal use. Some of Lee's developers bring in PCs purchased through that program on Friday afternoons when they are given time to pursue personal development projects. (See what I mean about forward thinking?) Some, but not all, of those machines are virtualized. Lee told me Carfax wants to do a little more testing before it's ready to move to desktop virtualization, which will be required to get an employee ownership program off the ground. A bigger hurdle than desktop virtualization is creating appropriate policies to cover situations such as employees leaving the company.
Lee sees an employee ownership program as a benefit that can be used to attract and retain tech-savvy employees. It's also an opportunity to move less tech-savvy workers to thin clients, which will make technical support easier and less expensive.
One of the questions I had for Lee concerned smartphones. I wondered if an employee ownership program would cover them, too. Carfax already pays for such devices, as well as high-speed Internet access, for employees in technical support roles who essentially are on-call 24/7. As Lee told me:
We justify paying for it because those employees are on 24/7. If they need to get on and fix something, we want them to be able to do it. Do you want to pay for Internet access, or do you want to add another shift or two of employees? For those people in technical support kinds of roles, we cover smartphones, too. Because they can get alerts on the phones and oftentimes fix things.
Lee seemed open to the idea of including smartphones, at least for some employees, under an employee ownership plan. Employee-owned smartphones are becoming more common, writes Dan Woods on Forbes. Solutions such as software from Good Technology that enables smartphones from many different manufacturers to access the same set of e-mail, calendar and contact applications are making the idea more feasible.
Employee-owned phones reduce IT's support burden, contends Woods, because if hardware fails, users will go the carrier that sold them the phone rather than to IT. That sounds pretty similar to Lee's take when I asked him about hardware support. He said:
Our thinking has been that it is their hardware, so they need to get support through the channel where they purchased it. That said, our internal help desk would help diagnose the issues and direct the employee to the appropriate support resources.
Woods' Forbes column presents smartphones as a sort of gateway to employee ownership of PCs and other devices He quotes Vimal Solanki, VP of corporate strategy at McAfee:
IT departments are no longer going to decide which smartphones you can use; the staff will find the technology they want and expect it to be supported. Phones are just the beginning; the next step will be bring your own PC.