Employee-Owned Smartphone Program: Coming to an Enterprise Near You

How many times have employees asked to have their personal smartphones ‘hooked up’ to the corporate environment? How many of you would like to use your own smartphone to access your email system, intranet web siltes, or collaboration tools? Bringing technology tools like smartphones from the consumer market into the enterprise environment is known by some as the consumerization of IT. In 2005, Gartner called consumerization of IT the most significant trend affecting IT during the next 10 years.

More and more people are acquiring smartphones for their personal use because of their availability and features. While they are used for collaboration, information gathering, and entertainment in your personal life, they can also be used as a productivity tool within the enterprise. A smartphone purchase is also a very personal decision, as individual preferences come into play such as keyboard type (physical versus virtual).

Most companies have a corporate-liable handheld program where the company provides the smartphone. It usually starts with executive management since they are often on-the-go and need access to information quickly. Most companies pay for the devices as well as the monthly charges for the plan. From a support perspective, the company either provides staff or outsources the work to a third party. There are usually only a limited number of devices supported – and for good reason. New devices are being launched at a feverish pace and supporting them can be costly and difficult. Also, you usually need an iron-clad business case to participate due to the cost to the company.

Many companies are now considering individual-liable handheld programs. These types of programs can allow for broader participation because the employee is bearing some or all of the costs. It can also give employees the freedom to use the device of their choice, making for a happier workforce. However, there are downsides as well. Securing and controlling the corporate information on individual-liable handhelds is extremely challenging since their security and management capabilities vary widely.

Before implementing an individual liable handheld program, there are a number of things that have to be considered. The following are some suggestions to get you started.

  • Get executive buy-in – Like many initiatives in the corporate world, you need to get agreements at the highest level in order to keep things moving.
  • Assemble a cross-functional, global team – You will not only need folks from IT (like security) but also include representatives from HR, auditing, legal, etc. Bringing the non-IT areas in early will help identify roadblocks up-front and gives those organizations a sense of inclusion. Global participation is important, since laws and business practices can vary considerably among countries.
  • Start with IT policy – Review your current policy around individual-liable devices. Is the IT policy vague in this area or is it even addressed? This is often the most challenging area, but is worth spending the effort because the IT policy will usually have to be amended anyway.
  • Understand minimum security requirements – Will you have the same security requirements for individual-liable devices as you do for corporate devices? Capabilities such as password policies and encryption support vary among devices. You will usually need to balance security with usability.
  • Supported applications – Will you support email/PIM, intranet access, or line-of-business mobile applications? Typically companies start with email/PIM and evolve from there. Many will be happy with being able to read their email and check their calendar to start.
  • Costs – Who will pay for the costs associated with these devices? Not only costs of the device itself and monthly plans, but costs related to mobile device management tools or licensing costs for applications.
  • Support model – If your organization is tech-savvy, a self/community support model might work. Using some social network tools to allow participants to share best practices and assist in troubleshooting problems may be all you need to do. If you want to offer more support, you may have to rely on third party providers who can manage a diverse group of devices which can significantly drive up costs.
  • Create a participant agreement – List out the conditions of participating in the program and have them agree to it. After all, this is a privilege, not a right. Items that should be addressed include eligibility, lost or stolen devices, conditions for remote wipe, audit requirements, and termination of employment.

Individual-liable programs are not for all enterprises. The sensitivity of information or corporate culture may prohibit the creation of such programs. However, the consumerization of IT trend will keep pressuring IT organizations to come up with innovative approaches which balance employee wants/needs with the responsibility to properly manage corporate data and resources.

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