Bye bye, corporate phone

BlackBerry, meet BYOD. Users are demanding their own smartphones, and support-weary IT is only too happy to hand over the reins.

No more BlackBerry

Some people don't do windows. Mark Egan, CIO at VMware, no longer does the corporate phone.

Choosing to ride rather than duck the wave of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) adoption currently flooding corporate America, Egan last fall instituted a mandatory, 90-day window for employees at the virtualization software company to trade in their corporate-issued phones for their own personal devices and mobile phone plans -- leaving some workers unhappy at first.

The decision to aggressively phase out the corporate phone -- once viewed as both a status symbol and a perk -- came pretty easily to Egan, who says he was fighting a losing battle with VMware employees despite the fact the firm offered them an array of choices, including multiple models of BlackBerries, iPhones and Androids.

VMware was spending more than the average firm on supporting phones, but users still weren't happy, he recounts. "The CFO was telling me we were spending too much, but the community at large said we weren't offering enough. That's when we decided to go 'all in' in supporting users' personal devices."

While VMware's all-in approach to the BYOD movement may still be the exception rather than the rule, IT organizations worldwide are scrambling to come up with effective plans to accommodate users' increasing desire to use their phone of choice on the job.

Many companies are simply allowing employee-owned (and funded) phones to access corporate assets like email and calendar systems, albeit with some protocols in place to ensure security and compliance. Others give select users a choice between opting for a company-issued phone and paid data plan or using their own device, subsidized wholly or in part by a monthly stipend.

Death of a corporate perk

It was only a short time ago that a company-issued BlackBerry and data plan was a sure sign you had achieved career status. Today, the BlackBerry's future is uncertain, and most business users have their own personal smartphones and have little enthusiasm for juggling a second device and even less for being saddled with what they view as outdated technology.

According to a Nielsen report released in May, more than half of American mobile customers own a smartphone, up from 37% a year ago. And those mobile phones are near and dear to their hearts: A recent Google study (download) showed that 26% of U.S. smartphone owners would rather give up their computer than their smartphone.

"The majority of employees today who don't get a company-provided cellphone still have a smartphone and want to use that phone as a center to better manage their own work/personal life balance," notes Christian Kane, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

The BYOD trend makes sense not just for employees. IT shops can also benefit by offloading the onerous task of supporting what's rapidly becoming a smorgasbord of phone choices and shifting their focus to value-added activities that can help differentiate the business.

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