At Issue: Cellphone Hell

Governments are coming up with creative approaches to manage mobile devices — from account pooling to personal phone-only policies.

by / June 11, 2012

What’s a city or county to do about cellphones? Busted budgets, increasing need for mobility, local government staff bringing their new iPhones and Androids to work as part of a seemingly irresistible force called “bring your own device” (BYOD). And those smartphones are grabbing market share from BlackBerry units that have been a mainstay of local government mobile communications for a decade. What are the options for local government? Who is having success in staying mobile while reducing costs?

The simplest approach may be to discontinue jurisdiction-supplied devices. As Corpus Christi, Texas, CIO Michael Armstrong said in a recent special report on BYOD, instead of having employees pay for personal use of government-provided phones, the city simply stopped furnishing cellphones but now provides reimbursement for business use of personal phones. “Our savings are about a quarter million dollars a year,” said Armstrong. “There was some resistance at first, but people realized they had a lot more choice in what device they could use — Apple sold a lot of iPhones that month.”

Corpus Christi doesn’t allow privately owned devices to access the internal portion of the city’s network, but they can access email and calendaring through Microsoft’s cloud. And one other big advantage? Lost or stolen phones are no longer the city’s problem.

Bexar County, Texas, has changed from separate wireless accounts with individual plans to one main wireless pooled account, according to CIO Catherine Maras. According to Maras, the county analyzed costs and discovered that pooling was less expensive than an employee allowance plan. Maras, in a story to appear in Government Technology’s September Issue, said that the pooled account includes 404 cellphones and the savings are estimated to be $85,000 per year. In addition, Bexar County also pooled 684 individual aircard plans — including 110 on a higher-cost unlimited plan — and is projecting a $10,000 savings for the year.

Modesto, Calif., is deploying devices such as Apple and Android smartphones, and working on security issues, especially with regard to public safety applications. CIO Bryan Sastokas, in the earlier-referenced BYOD article, said that smartphones — iPhone, Android and BlackBerry — are both city-owned and employee-owned, with access dependent on what services and applications the employee needs.

At Issue: How can local governments best utilize mobile phones while cutting costs?

Wayne Hanson

Wayne E. Hanson served as a writer and editor with e.Republic from 1989 to 2013, having worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and Digital Communities. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education.