Employee-Owned Laptops: Is More Control Worth Added Cost?

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Last spring and again last summer, some of us at IT Business Edge kicked around the idea of employee ownership of laptops. Gartner has been espousing this idea since 2005, when it predicted that 10 percent of companies would ask employees to buy their own laptops by 2008.

ITBE contributor Rob Enderle came out in favor, saying that companies could cut overhead and make employees happy by allowing them to buy their own gear. Ken-Hardin, the office skeptic, had plenty of doubts.

Now, based on a new study, Gartner is cautioning companies considering the idea not to assume they'll save money.

Total cost-of-ownership is virtually the same for company-purchased hardware and properly managed virtual machines running on employee-supplied laptops, according to a Gartner press release. Hard costs are actually higher for employee-owned gear, due to compensation provided to the employee and added third-party maintenance and support.

So if you won't save money, why do it? Gartner makes three main points:

  • Offering employees the ability to buy their own laptops should squelch complaints about company-issued machines. "Although it would be difficult to quantify through a cost-benefit analysis, a happier user is generally considered to be more productive," according to the release.
  • Management of business data and functions becomes more predictable, since the virtual machine segregates them from user-installed applications.
  • Also thanks to the virtual machine, IT can more easily control the operational environments of formerly "rogue" users.

Kind of a neat trick. Users feel like they are more in control, even though they aren't -- at least when it comes to what they are doing on the company's virtual machine. Ken raises some interesting issues about control in another take on the issue. He writes:

... there's all kinds of stuff employees can do with offline personal communication devices (their mouths, for example) that companies need to be concerned about from a liability standpoint. Swearing off control of machines that aren't currently logged on to their virtual sessions won't be a panacea for every risk -- but then again, what is.