For example, if an employee goes overseas and incurs roaming costs, who pays? Or when an employee exceeds a data plan's limits for work purposes, how do you determine your share of this cost? As it turns out, your largest cost ends up being staff time to figure out and process these exceptions as they occur, not the specific extra charges themselves, Voellinger notes.
Moreover, if smartphone charges are treated as a reimbursable expense, it becomes difficult to quantify your telecom spend across the organization. In essence, you're burying the data, which tends to lead to unnecessary usage and, thus, higher costs.
Employer-owned smartphones: A question of management
Of course, many companies that issue smartphones to employees do a poor job monitoring and keeping track of devices. This often leads to some employee usage bills of several thousand dollars on any given month, as well as "ghost" devices that continue to be paid for even after the employee is gone.
Voellinger advises companies to consider the context of their employees' smartphone use before settling on a strategy. For example, if most employees' use of smartphones for work purposes is limited, then a subsidized, employee-owned smartphone plan can make sense, as it adds convenience at a predictable cost. This approach can also make sense for dispersed organizations, especially those spanning multiple countries, as no single carrier can meet all of their smartphone needs, thereby reducing savings typically available via group discounts and bulk purchases.
But subsidizing employees' personal smartphone use could end up costing much more than an organization-wide plan from a single carrier, Voellinger notes, especially when reliance on mobile minutes and bytes is heavy. For some businesses, cost won't be the deciding factor: Strict auditing or compliance standards may require you to keep personal and corporate systems separate.
Although Voellinger advises companies to issue and manage employee smartphones, he says some companies will nonetheless end up with personal devices in use and should factor them into their policies and systems. (Voellinger walks through many of the considerations in his own blog.)
Your smartphone strategy: Obtaining the right mix
Of course, your smartphone strategy need not be black-and-white. Some companies may want to mix employee subsidies for some users with company-provided devices for other users, Voellinger suggests. In other words, you may have several classes of users and choose a different provisioning and cost strategy for each.
Forrester analyst Ted Schadler strongly recommends dividing your information workers into several groups based on how their mobile enablement benefits the company. "Don't treat everyone the same," he says.
For example, you might segment your staff as follows:
- Those who use the most sensitive data get company-paid, company-managed smartphones
- Those who work extensively away from their desks receive subsidies for most or all of their personal smartphone charges
- Those who work away from their desks occasionally receive a partial subsidy for their personal smartphone use
- Those who rarely work away from their desks receive no subsidy, and you may consider locking their smartphones out of your systems altogether
When considering costs, don't forget that there is more than just service plans and device costs. The complexity of supporting multiple kinds of smartphones -- a mix of BlackBerrys, Windows Mobile devices, and iPhones -- adds a cost as well, Voellinger notes. The price for that extra support could neutralize any savings you earn focusing entirely on cell phone access charges.