How to Handle Support for Employee-Owned Technology

Slide Show

Creating a Bring-Your-Own-Technology (BYOT) Program

12 steps to follow when creating a BYOT program.

On Friday I wrote about how consumer technology is shaping enterprise tech's future, with companies like Apple leading the way. This certainly comes as no surprise to today's knowledge workers. A whopping 95 percent of respondents to a Consumerization of IT study sponsored by Unisys and conducted by International Data Corp. (IDC) said they use at least one self-purchased device for work. In a follow-up online poll conducted by Unisys, three-quarters of information workers said they'd be willing to foot at least part of the bill for work technology if they could choose it themselves.


In response to the question "What percentage of the cost of your job's IT tools would you be willing to fund if you had freedom to choose what you could use?"

32 percent of respondents to the online poll said they would be willing to pick up the full cost. Twenty-one percent said they would pay up to half of the cost, and another 21 percent said they would fund up to 30 percent of the cost. Twenty-six percent indicated they wouldn't pay anything toward purchase of their own IT equipment, viewing such purchases as being the responsibility of their employers.


Despite this, 70 percent of employers surveyed by IDC and Unisys intend to continue using traditional models for purchasing employees' devices and covering business-related charges.


I know security is a concern, but in my opinion, support is one of the biggest sticking points for employee-owned technology. As I wrote earlier this year, some companies ask their employees to essentially support their own devices by working with the companies from which they purchased their smartphones or laptops. Some folks even present this as a way for companies to reduce their support costs.


Not everyone thinks this is a workable model, though. (I confess I'm among the skeptics.) When I interviewed Brendan Keegan, president and CEO of IT service provider Worldwide TechServices, told me he thinks entrusting employees with support would likely lead to downtime and lost productivity:

If people who aren't used to buying technology are buying warranty and support services, they may get a contract with a five-day return to a depot or something like that. That'll make them effectively an unproductive employee for five days. One employee might do a good job purchasing support while another may not. Most people know from experience you can call an OEM and be on the phone three or four hours trying to solve a problem. If you have an employee support model, you might have an employee on the phone the better part of a day trying to get their PC fixed instead of sending an automated ticket in to their own IT staff. You have to watch out for lost productivity. If companies are looking at doing this for cost savings, I think they'll see they aren't going to save money.

I like the approach suggested by Sam Gross, VP of Global IT Outsourcing Solutions at Unisys. Some Unisys clients are polling their employees about their technology preferences via Web-based surveys, then presenting them with a "white list" of approved technologies and support options. Writes Gross:

That way, you can not only put a corral around the "Wild West" of technologies, but also make your employees feel empowered that they have choice-increasing productivity and lowering costs at the same time.

It sounds like the employer still picks up the tab for the technology with that approach, but wins points with employees by offering them more flexibility with a broader pool of pre-approved solutions. Sweet. The survey is obviously the key there, to make sure you give employees options they genuinely like.


Unisys also suggests surveying employees to gauge the level of interest is a logical first step in creating a bring-your-own technology program. (Check out our slideshow based on the Unisys checklist for creating such a program. )


Another approach is a managed digital allowance, where employees receive a set, annual stipend for purchasing their own technologies, within a framework of corporate-approved security tools and mechanisms that must be on those devices. That was the approach being considered by Carfax CTO Gary Lee when I interviewed him last spring.


Security is no longer the deal-breaker it once was for employee-owned devices, writes Gross. Microsoft's Security Center is now part of the Windows operating system, for instance, which helps ensure users are certain their firewall, antivirus and other security-related software is operational and up to date.


Gross also says Unisys has found that employees who buy their own gear tend to take better care of it and pay more attention to it. In addition, the loss ratio is lower on equipment that employees personally own. That makes intuitive sense. I suppose I'd be more inclined to take better care of an iPhone myself than one provided by my employer.


You'll find some handy reference links on the Unisys site, including a link to a summary of the Consumerization of IT Benchmark Study results and a webinar and podcasts based on the research.