The announcement this week of Apple's iPhone X updates has certainly created a lot of buzz, and it warrants renewed discussion about BYOD policy and how to reimburse employees for the use of their personal devices.
While mobile devices provided to staff by the organization remain advisable in certain high-security and government settings, bring your own device (BYOD) is today the dominant method for provisioning end user devices in most settings. There are clear benefits all around here: There’s no need to carry (and power, back up, secure, and otherwise manage) more than one of any given device type (handset, tablet, and notebook); users don’t have to learn yet another device if the organization’s choice differs from their own (and said organization allows the use of whatever the user selects, of course); users will likely be more productive using a device they prefer; and the organization can avoid the significant expense of buying all those devices that most users really don’t want in the first place.
There is, however, one little issue that requires resolution here: the nature of financial reimbursement for the work portion of a given user’s monthly service expense. While most users don’t mind purchasing their own devices, and while the organization might even provide a subsidy or other benefit for this capital expense, the recurring monthly service charges for voice, messaging and especially data--as well as charges for Wi-Fi services like iPass and Boingo--demand a reimbursement strategy that is simple, predictable, fair, and easy and cost-effective to administer. The wide range of options here, however, often results in a rather challenging framework for telecom expense managers in organizations both large and small.
Before proceeding to a reimbursement strategy, though, let’s review BYOD basics and prerequisites. BYOD should not give users carte blanche to do whatever they want, and the operating rules and regulations need to be set down in a BYOD policy and sealed with an executed BYOD agreement between the user and the organization. The policy and agreement should specify what device/mobile-OS combinations are permitted and supported (or reference another document containing this information, with regular updates essential regardless), what enterprise mobility management (EMM) and telecom expense management (TEM) solutions will be applied, and must also be in concert with other key policies and (often) agreements concerning security policy and acceptable use of mobile devices, organizational networks, and other IT resources.
With all of this in place, the next step is to decide on the expense-reimbursement policy and process within the bounds of the BYOD policy and agreement--and here’s where it gets challenging. There are four common alternatives for expense reimbursement:
1. Fixed amount: This is by far the easiest and simplest alternative, with the organization simply cutting all authorized and approved BYOD users a check for the same amount each month. Deciding what that sum should be, however, may take a bit of modeling and experimentation. Still, this option will be viewed as fair by all, except perhaps those individuals with very heavy work usage.
2. Fixed percentage: In this approach, the amount reimbursed each month will be a fixed percentage of the user’s monthly service charges. The organization in this case must approve all carrier plans that qualify, and larger organizations can even negotiate an optimal plan with each approved carrier. Still, most users will find this approach fair, and costs are bounded within a given approved plan.
3. Variable percentage: Users with heavy elated work-data usage may believe either of the above alternatives unfair, which introduces the possibility that this class of user might be amenable to receiving a percentage that will vary with usage from month to month. However, because the reporting and auditing requirements can become unwieldy, we usually suggest that an unlimited data plan and a fixed-percentage reimbursement address this objection much more efficiently.
4. Actual usage: And, yes, it’s possible to audit actual usage for any given user and assign each billable unit (voice, messaging and data) to a “personal” or “work” category. Add up the work usage, calculate the percentage of the total, and you’re done. This strategy can work well where all traffic goes over the organizational network--work telephone calls all go through the PBX, to use an arcane term here, and all data transits the organizational network. This is perhaps the fairest approach of all, but also the most complex, time-consuming and likely the most expensive. Large organizations that operate in this fashion, however, usually have TEM experts that can ease the way.
Given that service plans with unlimited voice, messaging and Internet are now common and very cost-effective, we continue to recommend the fixed-amount approach in essentially every case. This is the only alternative with absolutely predictable costs, close-to-zero overhead and no real question regarding fairness, as all users are treated exactly the same.
No matter which of these options is selected, it’s also vital to monitor reimbursement payments, noting any trends (both good and bad), and to actively reinforce users, from time to time, as to behaviors that enhance productivity and minimize operating expense to the greatest degree possible. And be sure to get both legal and tax advice on this matter, as laws, rules, regulations, and tax impacts can and will vary with locale, state and country. And, as is the case with all policies and agreements, regular reviews and updates are required, and par for the course.