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Lessons Learned from a Bring Your Own Device Project

I spent a lot of last summer working with a large enterprise IT department on their transition from company-owned Blackberry devices to employee-owned devices. This was a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) project much like many companies are now considering. Being involved in the real-life execution of the strategy is, to say the least, a learning experience. This article is titled "Lessons Learned," but it does not include every lesson learned. That would be too much reading! Instead, I have listed some key points that are likely to apply to most enterprises considering a BYOD plan.

1. Not Everyone Wants to Bring Their Own Device
It is probably hard for some of us to imagine, but not every employee is into smart devices. A lot of employees do not want to worry about picking a device and a plan. The smartest phone they have is the one provided by the company, and they have no desire to pay out of their own pocket for anything else. As an example, while communicating the policy to groups of employees, I saw two contrasting reactions on the same day. One extreme was a couple of employees who swore that they would never turn in their Blackberry and Air Card to be part of our little BYOD shell game. The other extreme was a new employee who was already an iPhone/iPad enthusiast and was delighted that he was going to get reimbursed for using the devices he already had. Be prepared to have good options and answers for both extremes.

2. You Don’t Have to Support Every Phone
Often we hear the BYOD concept stated as "any device the employee chooses". There are a lot of factors to consider when vetting which devices to support. If you are using a Mobile Device Management tool (MDM), the MDM provider will provide a list of devices that they support. That's a good way to start your own shorter list.

Next you'll want to determine the version of iOS, Windows or Android you will support. Don't decide that you'll support "3.x or better"; "better" is not always better. Different versions of operating systems offer varying encryption and VPN capabilities. With Android, even different devices using the same version work quite differently.

After you narrow down device models based on compatibility, you'll want to determine what features most employees will need. If employees need tethering or wireless hotspot capabilities, make sure that the devices they can choose from will support it. Finally, it's a good idea to weed out any flimsy phones that you would not want to recommend that anyone purchase for the workplace. Even though employees are choosing, you are still the expert on what works for your environment.

Some organizations have a very short list of devices. For example, Nike Inc. has a well-publicized BYOD strategy. They chose to begin by only supporting iPhones and iPads. This allows them to still manage expectations for compatibility, even though employees are providing the device. Nike's plan is to add other devices as they are tested for compatibility.

One advantage to having a short list of supported devices is that self-support will be simpler. Many companies rushing to a BYOD-model plan to rely on "device champions", i.e., device enthusiasts who help other employees with issues through support forums, wikis, etc. The fewer devices that are in use in your enterprise, the more likely that this model will lead to enough content to actually provide answers specific to the same device.

3. Enterprise Data Plans are Different from Personal Data Plans
Your employees may have a data plan that they expect to use for access to your enterprise email system. Their carrier may require them to upgrade to a business grade data plan, which usually costs more. This may lead to dissatisfaction with their reimbursement allowance unless they know this in advance. Communicate the data requirements in advance.

4. Whatever the Reimbursement Amount--People will Want More
There are employees who see the BYOD announcement, call IT and ask "Is the company going to buy me an iPhone?" People always want more. There are so many good reasons folks have for needing a larger reimbursement, even if you have established tiered reimbursement levels. The reasons range from very subjective ("I spend my whole work day on my cell phone") to legitimate ("I travel to our Singapore office once a month"). The catch-22 is that the more detailed you try to make reimbursement factors, the more exceptions will come to light. Use very measurable factors in determining reimbursement levels.

5. Get your Tax department Involved Very Early
Just when Congress passed legislation that treats cell phones as "listed property" on employee-provided devices, many enterprises are ready to stop providing them! In the IRS Fringe Benefit Tax Guide, employee-owned devices with occasional personal use qualify for a "de minimus" exception and don't require reporting as taxable income. In September of 2011, the IRS also issued guidelines that employee reimbursement for personal cell phone plans is not taxable if there is a valid business reason. Prior to this new guideline, most BYOD policies that included a cell phone stipend tracked it as taxable income. Since this is an evolving guideline, your tax department should be in the loop when you decide what factors qualify employees for various levels of reimbursement. They may also have an opinion about the monthly reimbursement process itself.

6. Get your Human Resources department Involved Very Early
BYOD migration creates significant human resource policy issues regarding privacy and personal liability. Issues regarding privacy that seemed settled for employee-owned devices are different for BYOD plans. The Supreme Court determined that employees have no right to privacy on a company provided device, but there has not yet been a privacy challenge on the BYOD model. Including information in your cell phone policy disclosing what your Mobile Device Management tools have access to is a good start, but even if you have a "No right to privacy" statement, that does not make personal phone privacy a settled matter. Another uncharted issue is personal media content. There are many movies, songs and photos that would be inappropriate for an employee to carry around on a company provided laptop or tablet. Will your company dictate what is inappropriate to keep on a personal device, now that it is used in the workplace every day?

If your company has a distracted driving policy, it still should apply to personal devices. Unless employers can demonstrate that they actually enforce distracted driving rules, they can be liable for mobile device related accidents, even with an employee-owned phone. What might complicate these liability rules for personal devices is when employees are using a texting service that the company would never provide, or forgoing hands-free devices that the company would mandate on a company device.

Finally, is your BYOD plan optional, or will you eventually eliminate all company-provided mobile phones? If the latter is the case, what happens if employees break or lose their phone? If they are required to have a mobile device for their job (remember--this is the justification for non-taxable reimbursement) will they face disciplinary action for not paying $300 or more to replace an off-contract device? All of these issues will impact how you execute your BYOD strategy, so get the right people involved in the planning phase of your transition.

7. Phone Number Transfer and Ownership
For years we heard about how important it was to centralize cell phone administration so that we could retain valuable phone numbers that would otherwise walk off with a sales rep along with his sales leads. With that in mind, here is what you will have to decide with a BYOD strategy:

* Can the employee transfer his company-provided number to his personal device?
* Will the employee be allowed to keep the number that once belonged to your company if he leaves your company?
* Should the employee be allowed to use his personal number even though every customer who calls him on the company number will have to learn it?

You probably won't answer all three questions "no". This means that there is the potential for employees to leave with customer contacts to their phone number.

8. Family Plan Discounts
Employees may be planning on using a phone that is on their spouse's/parents' plan. Your company may offer a negotiated discount to employees for your preferred carrier. Employees will probably not be able to use the discount unless they are the primary account holder on their personal plan. (Interesting side note: Anyone have adult kids or relatives that are still on your family plan? With this being such a trend for companies, how about a BYOD transition away from all the "Family Liable" phones, messaging and support?).

9. Develop and Clearly Communicate Your Support Policy
Think about all the things that could prevent an employee from accessing company systems from their mobile phone: wrong data plan, no data plan, out of 3G/4G coverage area, did not pay bill, wrong password, a new unregistered device. There are plenty of others, but you will need to determine what you will be responsible for identifying, fixing, or not supporting at all. Unless they know otherwise, employees may expect you to provide support, since their personal device is now used for work.

10. Be Prepared to Support Beyond Your Policy
The support policy is great, but what are you going to do when a company executive buys the first Android phone she has ever owned in her life and does not know how to use anything on it? You are not going to turn her away, leaving her to explain to her colleagues why she had to wait until she was back in the office to reply to their email. So what about the non-executives? Are you going to leave them unable to work in the same situation just because you won't get in as much trouble? Really?

Another, more positive scenario would be in the case of someone who your staff has tried to help, has refused to follow your suggestions and chosen instead to escalate up to an executive; then, it so happens that this executive already knows from her administrative staff how helpful you have been in getting them set up with their smart devices. See how nice that works?

11. Communicate a Lot, and In a Lot of Ways
A BYOD transition is a big deal for enterprise IT. It is also a big transition for the user community, and IT folks will be expected to provide leadership and expertise. It is evident from all of the preceding information that there is a lot to communicate to employees. They will need to understand reimbursement policies, security, privacy, where to get support...pretty much how it's all going to work. In the project that I supported, employees were informed with email announcements, how-to videos, FAQs, live presentations and training of key department personnel. This was effective, but there were still questions.

In summary, I'd say the most important takeaway from these "lessons learned" is to understand that BYOD plans can be a complex project for a large enterprise, and to make sure that whoever delegated the project to you understands that as well.