Steer clear of these BYOD boondoggles

Vendors are targeting naive, frightened IT pros with silly notions that will waste your money and time

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The misdirected fear of overspending on data plans. Another fear is overpaying for cellular services if employees bring their own devices. Umm, if they bring their own devices, they're paying for their cellular plans, not the company. Certainly, if you provision smartphones and cellular-enabled tablets, you should work out a discount with your preferred telecom providers. You don't need to buy only one type of device; with the three major carriers in the United States and even some rural carriers, you can let employees choose from iOS, Android, and BlackBerry for the devices you issue. But these are not BYOD devices, even if you let employees choose from a selection of devices; your purchasing group controls the costs.

For BYOD, your company can easily cap any reimbursement it chooses to make to be no more than the discount it's negotiated. You don't need a product or a consultant to do this, and there's no reason for IT to be in this conversation in the first place. If your company gets a $50-per-month plan from its carrier, the max reimbursement to BYOD employees should be $50 per month, assuming they use that device almost exclusively for business. If the company wants to be more generous -- great!

Note that most companies aren't paying less for their "discounted" service than individual employees are. Carriers have long tacked on $10 to $20 for "corporate email access," which individual users can easily avoid. Plus, employees typically buy family plans, where each additional line is much less costly for the voice portion than the first user's bill (data is not discounted). A large company might duplicate that savings (a recent Aberdeen study suggests you might save $10 per user), but the real question is not what deal BYOD users can get, but what -- if anything -- you're willing to reimburse them; ditto for the device costs.

Finally on data plan costs, companies should remember that very few tablet users get models that even support cellular data, notes Phil Asmundson, Deloitte's vice chairman and U.S. media and telecommunications sector leader. (Industry estimates are that about 10 percent of units are sold with cellular capabilities.) "Tablets tend to be used indoors, where there's Wi-Fi, so data plan issues are not so big," he says. To the extent there's demand for data plan reimbursement, it's usually limited to people who travel extensively for work -- the same group a company would typically purchase a data plan for anyhow.

The plausible device management cost concerns. Then there's the corollary of the expense of managing all those devices. There is an IT cost here in the administration of the MDM and related tools -- even simply Exchange Server. IT should educate the business about the overhead cost, including any per-device licensing expenses incurred when employees are allowed to access the corporate network and need to have MDM policies applied. That cost should be charged back or allocated to the business units, so they can make the decision as to the value of mobile access.

Obviously, if you use Exchange Server, which covers most MDM bases, your cost per device is quite low. Basically, you start with the initial policy set up by IT, which should be minimal if you use group policies, then designate policies for a group and simply add users. If you use a higher-level MDM tool, you'll pay per device or per user, depending on what the provider can get away with.

There can also be an IT cost to wiping a lost or stolen device's contents, as well as to wiping a device when an employee leaves the company. As IT has to go into a management console to remove access permissions for a departing employee, the few minutes more it takes to wipe their devices is a trivial overhead addition.

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