Is BYOD Really Cheaper?

More and more companies and governments are implementing technology policies that allow their staff to bring your own device to work (or BYOD). But is BYOD really cheaper for governments?

More and more companies and governments are implementing technology policies that allow their staff to bring your own device to work (or BYOD). This means those shiny new Christmas presents, like iPads, iPhones and Droid-enabled devices can access company and government data. Some experts estimate that BYOD will become the predominant technology approach to access mobile apps in coming years – with almost 60% of offices already implementing some type of BYOD.

Recently, I covered some of the good, the bad and the ugly regarding BYOD in this presentation for auditors in Lansing, Michigan. But beyond the implementation headaches, security concerns and topics such as Mobile Device Management (MDM), there is an emerging debate surrounding a series of cost-saving statements and claims.

I have spoken with government technology leaders in several states that say they are saving money now with BYOD by offering staff that have state-owned devices the ability to bring their own device into work. They save money overall on the cost of the hardware purchase, on the monthly telecom subscription charges and on helpdesk support calls. Many industry analysts say that this new approach can save significant budget dollars, given the right conditions. Consider these BYOD, money-saving, articles:

Encourage BYOD Policies in Agencies to Save Money – “Given the power, availability, and relative affordability of today's smartphones and tablets, the Federal government cannot keep up on technology and shouldn't have to. Instead, provide standard mobile data management (MDM) security protocols to allow employees to use their own, privately owned devices. Agencies should provide a monthly stipend to defer the cost of wireless services.”

 2012 Survey Reveals Top Cities Save Money With BYOD, New Wireless Facilities and Shared Services – “Top-ranked cities in the survey reduced overtime with new technology, embraced BYOD to reduce hardware costs and developed an app that will keep track of what users are doing to reduce power and fuel consumption.”

California's budget crisis sparks controversial 'BYOD' plan to save money – “Because of the state's ongoing fiscal crisis, he, like other agency managers, last year was told to cut use of state-issued cellphones by 50% as a cost-saving measure. Cruz decided one way to hold down costs at DHCS, which was using BlackBerries, was to have agency employees use their own smartphones instead -- without any subsidy.”

But Some Say BYOD Costs More

On the other side of the fence, consider these stories:

Asian companies resisting BYOD due to cost – “Companies will need to fork out for device management and individual mobile and data plans to enable BYOD initiatives, but the extra costs mean they're holding back from implementation.”

Most IT Directors (73%) Say BYOD Will Lead To Uncontrolled Costs Not Savings – “One major reason for potentially uncontrolled expenses boils down companies losing bargaining power with carriers as employees begin purchasing their own iPhones or Android handsets. While the cost of the device isn’t likely to be passed on to an employer, monthly costs for voice and data service may be a different story. With unlimited data plans slowly going the way of the dodo, many workers may not want to shoulder data bills associated with their jobs, which may lead to a shared expense model.

More importantly, nearly the same amount of IT directors (69%) said that cost savings around lower support costs are “non-existent” despite the perception that personal devices will reduce the workload of IT staff. The survey found that IT staffers expect to remained the first place BYOD users call for technical support.”

Blackpool ICT boss: BYOD doesn't save money – “Since starting its BYOD scheme, the council has realised that it is costing more to allow staff to use their own devices than corporate ones once additional requirements such as mobile device management and help-desk support are factored in, Doyle said.

‘I don't believe the right reason to introduce a BYOD policy is to make cost savings. My sense at the moment is that it's costing us more because of the extra burden on the helpdesk, and the cost of software to manage the devices,’ he told the InfoSec conference in London.

‘I also think you've got to factor in that if it all goes wrong, the local authority may fall foul of the information commissioner for a breach and get a £500,000 fine.’

However, the council is reaping other benefits from BYOD, such as office space rationalisation, including a reduction in the number of desks it provides, the introduction of hotdesking, and flexible working.”

Study: Just one in ten enterprises have saved money through BYOD schemes – “Mobile expense management company Xigo commissioned telecom industry association CCMI to carry out the study, which found that only 9% of businesses have been able to cut expenditure by deploying some kind of BYOD program.

Another 67% saw no difference with expenditure, while 24% somehow saw an increase in spending after putting a BYOD plan in place. More than half of enterprises (60%) are still in charge of purchasing, managing and securing smartphones and tablets for their employees, while also paying the monthly network fees.”

Hidden Costs Can Hamper BYOD Programs – “If BYOD programs are not kept on a short leash, they can in fact be very expensive, up to 30% more than what an agency or company might spend on a non-BYOD mobile program…”

What About Productivity Increases?

Some industry experts proclaim productivity increases with BYOD. For example: 

There's only one business case for BYOD -- Productivity – “Whether a company is a Fortune 500 firm or a little startup, there is really only one reason to allow employees to BYOD. Increased productivity from workers using their own precious gadgets is the only reason to do it.”

The argument goes that employees will be happier, easier to train and just do more with their own smartphones and tablet-PCs.  Happier employees usually stay with your company, and BYOD is viewed as a way to attract and retain young talent. Of course, these productivity gains can be difficult to measure and justify than hard savings on the bottom line.

What’s My View on BYOD’s Business Case?

So which is it? Does BYOD cost more or less for enterprises?

My opinion: it depends on your answers to key questions. Also, this is a moving target, and it is difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison between today and where you will be three years from now. There will be new apps, other devices taken away or added and a long list of other changes. BYOD may become a new cost of doing business for some enterprises.

Here are some key determining factors: Do you offer BYOD to all employees or just those who had smartphones before? In Michigan, we over 47,000 employees, but less than 10,000 currently have government-provided smartphones or Blackberries. Who gets to have an MDM-protected BYOD device? This will be decided by the agency business areas.

Also, who gets a stipend? If employees are fully reimbursed for their personal device(s), the savings may disappear. Only time will tell how many employees elect to bring their device to work.

There are many other questions that must be answered before you determine if BYOD is cheaper. What data plans are allowed? How many calls come into the helpdesk? How many different device models are allowed? How many staff will be deployed for this function? Is that an increase or decrease from today? How does billing work? The list goes on.

My view is that we will start to see BYOD implementation tools (return on investment calculators) soon that will help you figure out the business case for BYOD in your company or government office, based upon your answers to about 30-50 questions.  

In the meantime, the BYOD parade continues, but don’t spend the savings just yet.



Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.