One of the biggest trends to hit the workplace in the past decade is a phenomenon known as “bring your own device” (BYOD) — a term we at Frost & Sullivan actually call “bring your own technology” (BYOT), because it applies to more than just hardware endpoints. But whatever you call it, the concept is the same: more and more, employees are buying and using their personal devices, applications and services to get work done. However, many businesses don’t take into consideration the hidden costs of BYOT, as employee-owned devices can cost more than they save.

Organizations Are Embracing BYOT

Whether they’re using personal mobile phones or tablets, downloading the latest productivity app or service, or using so-called “freemium” programs to communicate and collaborate with far-flung colleagues, partners and customers, employees are finding ways to increase their productivity and flexibility while on the job. Frost & Sullivan’s most recent survey of IT decision makers in a variety of industries and at companies of varying sizes shows that across the board, they’re embracing BYOT: more than three-quarters of companies tell us their employees use smartphones and/or tablets to get work done, and those devices are more likely to be owned by their users than by the organization. Furthermore, more than half of all companies have a BYOT policy in place, and do their best to enforce it. Finally, almost 45 percent of respondents expect the use of BYOT to increase, in some cases significantly, in the next two years.

Many organizations like the idea of BYOT because they think it will save them money. With employees paying for the devices and related apps or services, the company doesn’t have to include those outlays in its annual IT budget. Often, they leave support to the end user as well, in an effort to continue to keep costs down. But what these business and IT leaders may not realize is how much such an approach is really costing them in the end. And this matters, because 60 percent of our survey respondents say that reducing costs is the number-one driver behind their IT investments.

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The hidden costs of BYOT can be broken down into four categories:

1. Hard dollars. Many organizations develop a BYOT program by giving employees an “allowance” that they can apply toward purchases of mobile devices and other technology and applications. This allows workers more choice — they can pick the brands they like — and lowers the organization’s initial outlay, as they’re essentially splitting some portion of it with the employee (who can also use the device during their personal time). But under this scenario, hidden costs can crop up: international charges for business travel, for instance, would normally be covered by the company, but when purchased on an individual basis, there are no discounts for bulk purchasing. There may also be tax consequences for the company (i.e., fewer write-offs) and support costs, since there will be an expectation that the organization will cover some — if not all — issues if it’s paying for part of the initial purchase and ongoing monthly fees. There will also likely be network-related investments required to maintain performance as more and more devices get connected — and these are often done on an ad hoc basis.

2. Productivity. Once enough people in an organization start using mobile devices and apps to get work done, they become part of the organization’s business processes. When they don’t work — due to technical glitches, lack of payment or other failures — neither do those processes. Leaving the decision about what tools to use to your employees means you don’t get to decide what endpoints and applications will most benefit the company in the long run. Not supporting disabled devices and related apps and services can mean hours, days or even weeks in which your employees don’t have access to the tools they now need to properly do their jobs. And don’t forget to factor in the cost of filling out expense reports (for reimbursement of some or all of the technology employees bring in), as well as any time spent trying to get consumer-level support (especially for free software). Boosting productivity is the second-most important concern for IT decision makers, so paying attention to good intentions that have negative results is key.

3. Security. If you leave it up to your employees to evaluate, purchase and use technology, you have little to no control over the endpoints and services they choose. They might buy unprotected smartphones or tablets, putting you at risk for malware; or, they might use free consumer apps that have no protections for intellectual property, data management, compliance and so on. The costs of repairing a damaged network or recovering lost data can be astronomical. Forty percent of our survey respondents listed security as their biggest IT challenge, so dealing with it head-on is important.

4. Opportunity costs. Don’t ignore the fact that you may be losing business if your employees can’t respond to emails, requests for help and other inquiries outside of normal business hours or a traditional corporate office. Today’s customers and prospects expect an immediate reply, and the only way to ensure they get one is to give your employees the tools they need to access communications, corporate and product information, and the expertise and input of managers and colleagues anywhere, anytime. Assuming that workers will use their own devices to deliver top-notch service is a risk; every deal lost to lag time and unresponsiveness is revenue lost, too. And then there’s the question of who owns customer contacts, information and other data when an employee leaves the company. If that information resides on employee-owned devices, they’ll take it with them when they leave. But if the business owns that hardware and software, IT staff can rest assured that it will always stay with the organization.

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Melanie Turek

As an Associate Fellow and VP of Research for Connected Work at Frost & Sullivan, Melanie covers a broad range of markets, leveraging long-standing relationships with leading industry participants’ senior executives and customer organizations. Melanie has more than 25 years' experience covering video and web conferencing, social networking, unified communications, voice, IP communications, and instant messaging and presence, as well as a wide range of business software and services. Melanie brings deep technical expertise and in-depth understanding of the ways in which technology can positively impact business processes and performance. She studied social anthropology at Harvard, and she views technology transformation through that lens.

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