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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Whatever the realistic costs, IT should raise the issue of costs for any setup, management, and tech support with the business management, says Larry Dunn, Unisys' vice president of IT outsourcing solutions. That way, IT isn't stuck with unbudgeted costs, and businesses can decide the value of enabling mobile access once the costs are understood.

However, IT has to understand that the more control it asserts over mobile devices, the higher the cost it will incur to manage those devices -- company-issued and BYOD units alike. The business management should push back to ensure that the level of IT management is appropriate, and not an exercise in control mania. (A simple clue: If more management is asserted over mobile devices than over laptops and home computers, IT is likely overmanaging mobile devices.)

Anyone who thinks BYOD is free is foolish, but in most cases, the incremental IT cost is quite low (a couple hundred dollars per user) and may be easily justified from the productivity or flexibility gains. If the value is shown to not be worthwhile for as many people who want to connect, the business needs to know that too.

The stupid notion of replacing employees' own devices. One of the dumber proposals I got from a vendor was the notion that by allowing BYOD, companies may be on the hook for replacing broken devices that are out of warranty. The suggestion was to track the warranties of users' personal devices and ... well, that's where even the PR person couldn't invent an action. Are you kidding me? If my car breaks, the company doesn't buy me a new one because I use it for work. If my home computer breaks, it's on my dime. A BYOD smartphone or tablet or whatever is no different. BYOD means the employees choose to use their own stuff. Let me repeat: their own stuff. Not your problem.

The silly accounting and tax worries. What IT should not worry about is the accounting aspect. I've heard from several IT people that reimbursing employees for their devices or data plans will result in hgher taxes because these are considered employee benefits. Or the cost of processing expense reports for data services -- if you go that way rather than an automatic stipend for employees in good standing and of your choosing -- will waste valuable company resources.

Nonsense! if you're reimbursing employees -- as a stipend, via an expense report, or even as a bump in salary -- for their cellular bills, you're incurring a deductible expense. There is no taxable benefit to the employee, notes Deloitte's Asmundson: "It's not a taxable benefit because it's a reimbursed expense."

Yes, I know that the device is not used for solely for business, so there could be a nonbusiness value involved -- which is how some IT people assume there's a taxable benefit. Let the accountants do the accounting: The IRS does not care about such incidental benefits, just as they don't care about the fact that when an employee is reimbursed for a business meal, the employee has been subsidized for the cost of the meal he or she would have had at home. Ditto for how companies handle rembursed home-office phone lines and broadband service back in the day when some companies covered those expenses, notes Unisys' Dunn. If you give an employee something with real value -- a car to keep or an all-expenses-paid vacation, for example -- then the IRS will want that reported as a taxable benefit.

Then there's the shibboleth about the high cost of processing an expense reimbursement. Yes, if data access is the only thing for which your employee submits an expense reimbursement, your company could be paying $10 to $20 in accounting and check-issuing costs to cover that $20 or $30 or $40 bill. But the employees typically reimbursed for such expenses tend to be people who travel, work in the field, or have other regular bills they are expensing, so the incremental cost for the data plan portion is negligible. If your company has lots of folks expensing this one cost regularly, your accounting crew should switch to an automatic stipend. But again, let the CFO worry about running the accounting department.

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