Bring Your Own Device: When Is Your Phone Your Own?

This series about the bring your own device movement (BYOD) was developed in partnership with Visage.

As many as 84% of employees use their smartphones for work-related activities these days. That means most companies have hopped on the so-called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement, whether they realize it or not.

What does this mean for businesses? There's certainly debate over the pros and cons of BYOD – some say it boosts worker productivity while lowering costs, others argue it increases overall costs and security concerns. The bottom line, though, is that personal devices have nonetheless infiltrated the workplace – and companies need to take a proactive approach to managing it in order to avoid shocking expense reports and scuffles over who owns what.

Different approaches to BYOD work for different companies – and even different departments. Here's what to think about when formulating a plan:

Who Chooses the Phone?

“Bring your own” means what it says – relieving the company of bulk hardware purchases. But that doesn’t have to be the case. After all, the ultimate point of BYOD is to allow users to do their work on the devices they’re most comfortable with, hence enhancing productivity. There are plenty of ways to get there:

  • Choose Your Own Device: Yahoo! allows employees to choose from a selection of different phones – all corporate-owned but personally enabled. This gives the employee a say in their device, but keeps the bulk-buying cost savings in place. And it makes mobile device management and security measures easier on IT.
  • You Buy, We Pay: The company reimburses the employee for their own device purchases. Even within this scenario, options abound: What’s the size of the reimbursement? Is it a flat rate? Does the company approve certain handsets and exclude others?
  • Use Your Own: A company can also allow employees to bring their existing phones into the network fold, and have IT outfit them with any necessary security software. No money changes hands.
From there, it’s up to a company to determine whether it will provide day-to-day support for BYOD phones and tablets.

Who Owns the Phone?

Or more importantly, who owns the data on the device? (Visage has discussed this before on their blog. Establishing legal ownership is important insofar as a company may need the ability to wipe sensitive information from a lost or stolen phone. It also provides visibility into user activity – from what apps are being downloaded to emails used and photos taken. InfoWorld editor Galen Gruman suggests different ways to manage ownership:


  • Company-Owned: With this old-school method, the company owns and provisions the device, and lets the employee use it. All data, emails, apps, etc. belong to the company.
  • Shared Management: Perhaps the most common for BYOD, a shared-management scenario involves signing an agreement stating that the phone belongs to the end user, but that they allow the company to access data on the device – including the ability to manage, wipe or lock. IBM has a policy of turning off several potentially data-leaking apps on users’ personal devices.
  • Legal Transfer: The user purchases the device, and the company buys it from them (usually for a token amount). This gives the company the ownership and ability to manage the device with the understanding that it will sell the device back to the employee should they leave the company.
Who Pays?
BYOD doesn’t mean companies can’t find better deals with carriers. In fact, most major carriers are still willing to offer a group rate, even if the group is made up of several individual-responsible-users (IRUs, as they’re called). That and other options to consider:
  • ​​​Creative Group Rates: As CIOUpdate suggests, ”Think of it like a ‘tell a friend’ retail program where you get a discount for every customer that names you as a referral source. If you can get large numbers of IRUs to use your carrier/plan, you may get even bigger benefits in the way of credits to your corporate account.” That option gives employees a break on the monthly bill and lowers the portion that the company will reimburse.
  • Mobile Stipends: Some companies include a flat mobile “stipend” as part of an employee’s compensation, covering some or all of monthly wireless fees.
  • Expense Reports: One common reimbursement method for individually liable wireless plans is to allow users to include all or part of their wireless bill on a monthly expense report. This model has advantages, although Aberdeen Group research suggests the adminstration costs are significant and it doesn’t allow a company to tailor plans to users’ needs. But new tools, like Concur’s recent integration with Mobility Central, are making expense reporting for mobile a lot smoother.
Bottom line: There’s no right-or-wrong, black-or-white way to handle BYOD as long as there’s a plan in place that takes account of your company’s assets, needs, and overall expenditures. Establish clear company policies around device and data ownership, and security expectations, and make sure you have visibility into the entire inventory.

About the Author: Visage is a Concur Connect Gold Partner. They specialize in helping businesses understand where and how money gets spent when it comes to mobile phones. They also specialize in wearing some really fancy bowties.


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