The "Bring Your Own Device" phenomenon is barreling around the world, maybe knocking down the doors of your company in the form of a mandate. Half of employers will require employees to supply their own device for work purposes by 2017, says a Gartner survey of CIOs.
In other words, you might be forced to purchase a personal smartphone and sign away some of your rights in a draconian BYOD policy as a condition of employment. Already, BYOD experts are anticipating a flood of employee lawsuits over privacy and overtime.
"By becoming mandatory, this certainly begs the question: Don't we have to do a much better job making sure that we craft a program where the use of a device for business reasons can co-exist with the use of a device for personal reasons?" Matt Karlyn, partner in the technology transactions practice group at Boston law firm Cooley LLP, told CIO.com.
BYOD has gained a foothold in midsize and large organizations, especially in the United States. Gartner says U.S. companies are twice as likely to allow BYOD as those in Europe. Well-known companies that already have a smartphone mandate include Cisco, VMware and Ingram Micro, which makes sense given that tech companies and their tech-savvy employees were early adopters of BYOD.
For most companies, BYOD is still an option for employees. Many people are unwilling to participate in these programs because they'd have to sign a user policy that heavily favors a company's rights over their rights. But a BYOD mandate would put a lot of pressure on employees to sign on the dotted line and force them to adjust their privacy expectations.
Then there's the controversy over subsidizing a mandated BYOD smartphone.
Under an optional program, companies often offer a monthly stipend to cover a portion of the wireless bill. Roughly half of BYOD programs provide a partial reimbursement, says Gartner, adding that a BYOD mandate will work much the same way.
"The enterprise should subsidize only the service plan on a smartphone," says David Willis, vice president and analyst at Gartner. "What happens if you buy a device for an employee and they leave the job a month later? How are you going to settle up? Better to keep it simple. The employee owns the device, and the company helps to cover usage costs."
Here's the kicker: Employers will gradually reduce subsidies as carrier fees decline and the number of BYOD workers increases to the point where those who receive no subsidy will grow, says Gartner. Hard to believe? Many people pay for WiFi at home despite using it for work, too.
Subsidizing only the service plan of a BYOD mandated smartphone opens up a litany of problems. A person will have to either outlay hundreds of dollars for a smartphone or, like most of us, pay a premium over a two-year contract whereby the wireless carrier recoups its subsidy, as a condition of employment.
If a company chooses to pay for the mandated BYOD smartphone in addition to the service plan, then the BYOD policy will need to address reimbursement.
"A lot of companies are offering to subsidize the cost of mobile devices over, say, a couple of years," Karlyn says. "If you leave the company during that timeframe, and the company has already reimbursed you, then perhaps you might have a financial obligation to the company. That's a new concept."
A mandate in a BYOD program is akin to pouring fuel on a wildfire. It makes everything a little more intense. It's one thing to opt-in to a BYOD program, reap the rewards and suffer the consequences. It's quite another to be forced into it.
There are unforeseen consequences with a BYOD mandate.
For instance, let's say a company institutes a BYOD smartphone mandate. One of the employees has a poor credit rating and can't obtain a phone with enough data and minutes to do his job. Does this impact his future with the company? By having to disclose his poor credit rating, was his privacy violated? With a BYOD mandate, your credit rating might affect your ability to hold or land a job.
Nevertheless, Gartner's survey results are crystal clear: A BYOD mandate is coming, and it's going to shake up the workplace.
"BYOD strategies are the most radical change to the economics and the culture of client computing in business in decades," Willis says.
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org