Individual-Liable Device Programs: How to Build a Culture of Community and Self Support


Many enterprises are struggling with the Consumerization of IT wave that is sweeping through many areas, including smartphones. Employees are no longer satisfied with the restrictive device offerings from corporate IT, while IT is struggling to secure and support so many different device types in a cost-effective manner.

Many companies are investigating an individual-liable program which allows the employee to use their personal device to access corporate content. While it can minimize the device and/or plan costs, the support costs can skyrocket.

One approach is to use a community support model instead of traditional help desk approach. While this can greatly reduce costs, it can also frustrate users who are accustomed to relying on the IT department for help. However, if done right, you can give employees the flexibility to use their preferred device and minimize help desk costs. You may even be able to change the culture of the organization.

The individual-liable program should have some important foundational elements that should be clearly stated and supported by management. Some include:

  • Casual use – The program should be targeted for ‘casual use’. This means that the program is not required for the user to successfully complete their job function. It is offered as a convenience to the employee. If someone’s email is not working or a user cannot get their device to work with the system, it is an inconvenience, not a show-stopper. If things are down, they are down. No SLA (I hear the gasps echoing in my head).
  • There is no guarantee that any device can be used – New mobile devices are constantly being launched. IT support cannot begin to have the expertise needed to support all of these devices. In contrast, the corporate-liable programs typically have a limited list of supported devices. While an individual-liable program allows a wider selection of devices, not every device will work and there are no guarantees. It’s the price you pay for freedom.
  • Use at your own risk – There may be situations where you misplace your device or it is stolen. If this occurs, the user should follow specific procedures which might include wiping the device. This will probably wipe at least some of your personal data. Unfortunately if you later recover your device, you won’t be as lucky with recovering your data. The provisioning process might also unintentionally remove some of your personal content. A user’s device might accidentally get wiped as well. It is the user’s responsibility to manage their personal data to minimize the risk of loss. Caveat emptor.

Is Your Culture Ready for a Self/Community Support Model?

The support model uses should maximize self support and community support. Even the current definition of ‘best effort’ support may require significant resources that may not be able to accommodate this program. In the past, may users will sign up for a low SLA, but when things aren’t working right, it magically escalates to a higher SLA, usually through some social mechanisms (like calling your boss). A key cultural question is: Is your company ready to adopt an ‘Internet’ support model for a corporate service?

The Right Participants

Like it or not, this program is not for everyone. I know that statement goes against the entrenched philosophy of ‘it must be available for everyone’. Why? Who decreed that any IT service must be offered to all? One example of a user segment that does not fit for this program are executives. They handle sensitive corporate information and need timely solutions for their issues which can be better handled by a corporate-liable program.

The truth is in order for this program to be successful, it must be self-sustaining. You cannot rely solely on the IT department to keep it afloat. It must come from the user community as well. IT can do their part to develop user processes, social network tools, etc., but IT cannot do it all. IT should provide the tools, but the community should build the content.

One approach is to start with a user segment who can help build the foundation for a successful program. Some guidelines around the user segment are:

  • Comfortable with technology/competency – The user should be comfortable with technology and have some proficiency with their device. They should also have the skills to develop competency on a new device that they acquire (perhaps for this program). How does one gauge this capability? Having an opt-in agreement is part of the solution, but we all understand that people will agree to anything to participate, only to find out later that it is not meeting their ‘vision of expectation’, especially if they are accustomed to the traditional IT support model. British Petroleum introduced a novel idea in their ‘Living on the Web’ program. They require their participants to earn a ‘computer driver’s license’ consisting of a formal test for which a passing grade was required as a condition of the program. This demonstrated an employee’s competency in managing and protecting their IT tools. This also weeds out those folks who will sign up without taking their part of the commitment seriously. Perhaps some flavor of this could be used in the program. You don’t want folks buying a device that they won’t comfortable with and generating help desk calls for basic features/functions and tying up valuable resources.
  • Willing to participate in and contribute to the community – The program needs members who are motivated to contribute to the community at large and are comfortable with expressing their ideas using social network tools. They should be willing to contribute to blogs and wikis, create podcasts and videos, etc. Many companies have purchased and encourage the use of social networking tools – let’s walk the walk. As stated before, it is very important to have the user community be self-sustaining in order for the program to flourish. Initial participants should be selected such that they will organically build the social networking sites. It will be important to have this profile of user so that the social networking tools can be seeded with information. You can assess this by having prospective participants provide examples of their current participation in blogs or forums.

The initial participants should be well chosen. Now is not the time for a ‘melting pot’. I don’t think that most companies are culturally ready to just open the gates to all-comers. I am not saying that these folks should be technology geeks or ‘digital natives’, although they may have many of the desired behaviors. I am saying that if we get too many participants who don’t fit the profile, the program will have less of a chance for success. Also, if the program is running into major challenges with these folks, the program may require major changes or may not be suitable for your environment. Better to find out with these folks that with the masses.

As the program matures and content is created, a broader user community population can participate Who knows, you may get so much interest that the user population may ‘conform’ to the original user segment and you may have a culture change on your hands.

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