Employee-Owned Tech: Still a Tough Sell in the Building


A short while back I disagreed with our Rob Enderle (as well as the rest of my team) on the plausibility of the "employee-owned" PC model, which occasionally is batted around as a potential cost-control practice for business.


Today, Rob visited the topic again, this time in light of Acer's acquisition of Gateway -- and its strong presence in the educational market -- being a possible precursor to a new model for providing employees with computing tools and support without necessarily providing the hardware that runs them.


I can see the logic in suggesting that inherently mobile workers, along with those that can simply afford it, would be happier picking their own neato laptop (or to look a few years down the line, UMPC or ultra-smartphone) that for much of the day will be used as a personal device, anyway. Virtualization skews in favor of the model with the promise of sessions that IT can totally lock down when the devices are being used for business.




But there are still major problems with the model, and as always they come back to the economic reality of asking entry-level employees and front-line data workers to take a $1,000 or so hit out of their $25,000 salary or part-time wages for a core computing device.


Today, Rob points to the success some educational systems have seen in requiring students to provide their own laptops as an example of the user-owned model in action. I knocked around the Web a bit looking for some stats on how common a practice this is, and what I found was a lot of info on universities with such policies. Of course, universities expect their students to pay $120 for $50 textbooks; take it from me, if you want to see the budgetary dementia brought on by knowing you can raise tuition 8 percent to 10 percent a year with impunity, deal with a university for about 10 minutes.


My nephew is lucky enough to attend a private school; he provides his own laptop. Here's a glowing vendor write-up of a student laptop program in economically depressed neighborhoods in our own home base of Louisville, Ky. Guess what? The schools paid for the hardware.


There are peripheral concerns involved in having employees think of their in-office technology as being fundamentally personal, as well. I found this interesting discussion of such issues, including desktop images and the like, at the Texas Tech University Web site. Certainly, virtualization will be able to obviate many of these pitfalls, but not all of them -- 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?


So I can certainly see a model in which in-house business hardware becomes quite similar to POS systems -- totally locked in to task -- while employees who need (or just want and can afford) the flexibility of an ultra-groovy mobile device can foot the bill. The pressure to afford this kind of flexibility will only increase if devices are unlocked from network providers -- iPhones for all!


But I don't see how that will help Acer sell desktops, or even laptops, which are yesterday's news, anyway.

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