You break it, you buy it…wait what?

by Brian Katz on June 7, 2012 · 6 comments

I asked for suggestions tonight via twitter for this blog post and Bob Egan (@bobegan) made a terrific suggestion for another thing to think about when it comes to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). I have spent a lot of time talking about mobile strategy and thinking about whether you want a BYOD program and that it really isn’t about saving costs. But one of the little dirty secrets about BYOD is related to the fact that most programs aren’t well thought out. As an example, one of the major things that people must think about with BYOD is what do you do when your employee’s own device breaks.

When you set up a BYOD program, in most cases you don’t reimburse an employee for their mobile handset or tablet. They go buy the device and you enable it on your network. You may reimburse them for data (on a tablet) or data and voice (on a phone). In many cases, especially when it comes to phones, this is the only device they have. The big question becomes what happens when it breaks. It may not be as big a deal when they are near home and all but what happens when they are traveling. This is a person you expect to be able to stay in touch with. You may very well encourage the same thing with a tablet, that they use the device exclusively, especially for travel (much lighter than a traditional laptop).

So let’s paint a scenario, your American company sends you to a business meeting in Europe for 7 days. You go to the first day’s meeting and things are going swimmingly. You have great connectivity with your phone, everything is going right and you manage to carry a small bag with just the phone and your tablet in it. Then towards the end of the day, one of the other participants knocks the table just the right way and your iPad goes crashing to the floor, and the screen shatters. So all the sudden your workday is shot. Then to make matters work, when you step outside in the rain to head back to the hotel you check your phone for the phrasebook to ask directions and drop your phone in a puddle by mistake. All the sudden you’re cut off from the world. The good news is one of the others at the business meeting sees your plight and lends you his phone for a few minutes to call your service desk.

So now for the million-dollar question, what is the helpdesk supposed to do since you managed to break both of your BYOD devices and you can no longer get your work done productively and efficiently for the company. They flew you over to Europe for a cost of $3k, they put you up in a hotel that costs $200/night and they are feeding you while you are there. You’ve also lost access to all your files that you needed to be able to contribute meaningfully to the meeting. They could go with the standard answer; you’re out of luck. This doesn’t make a lot of sense when they are spending, all told, around $5k for your trip. Then there is the untallied cost of lost of productivity of the whole group because you can’t participate as well. They could offer to buy you the devices and then make you reimburse them, but how likely are you going to want to spend another $1k of your own money on these devices.

There a couple of different approaches that companies can take when they are considering a BYOD program in order to be ready for situations like this. The first approach is simple, you can’t take a personal only device with you when you travel because it becomes a risk to getting business done. The second way they can go is to invest in a pool of loaner devices to use as replacements. A third option is to require the owner to purchase a warranty/insurance that will cover situations like this no matter where they are. If it’s a BYOD program, will the employee want to spend that cost or is that something the company should pick up. I have heard of one situation where a company made it a requirement that with your BYOD device you had to buy insurance or else you weren’t allowed to participate in the BYOD program. You can also see this possibly becoming an interesting legal question, if you force people to use their own device and make them purchase insurance etc, are there legal ramifications for doing that? If you don’t do that and their devices break or get stolen on a business trip who’s insurance covers that? Can your employer make you replace the device? The good thing about not being an attorney is I don’t have to answer these sorts of questions but you should make sure that someone does.

As you can see, when you start looking at BYOD programs not all the questions are easily answered and there will be many things that come up that you never anticipated when you put the program into place. The funny thing is these sorts of issues existed when you had a corporate owned asset. The difference was that it was easy for companies to figure the costs out and plan for them. These same solutions also need to be built for your BYOD program if you are going to move forward with it.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tal Klein June 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Yes, in the companies we’ve spoken to that have BYO programs these are classified as “remediation” costs, and they are uniquely associated with both BYO and security – which is particularly interesting if you start to look at the sort of stuff we Bromides have been talking about. That is:

First, the scenarios you describe above. IT is ultimately responsible for keeping users productive. That’s job #1. So a broken BYO laptop is still an IT problem, as you stated. So what now?

Second, who is responsible for cleaning up an infected BYO device? Even if the user was “reined in” and followed policy, had the latest virus signatures, used the VPN, didn’t break the DLP guidelines, etc.. If she did everything right and still got pwnd – who’s in charge of cleanup? Who gets the blame? 🙂



Swarna June 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm

If the employee traveled to his office in another country, then IT in that country could “loan” a device until the employees gets his own. If he traveled anywhere else – a customer visit/event/offsite – someplace where IT isn’t local, then how about There should be a possibility of renting a device that is like a brand new device – from which we can remote-in to our virtual desktop. Not sure if businesses like that already exist – but in 2012, where we have iPhone apps that tell us where the nearest bicycle is – I’m sure we can do something similr for a smartphone/tablet. Maybe Dell (the old school Dell, not the new and confused one) could think of starting something like that?

To your point – legal can add a note that in case of the BYO-Device loss, employee will either utilize IT resources when available (as I mention here).

On a funnier note, I use a “him” for an employee here since I’ve seen more men accidentally smashing their smartphones than women 😉


Bob_Egan June 7, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Brian wonderful post.
The same situation should extend to BYO Laptops/Ultras. As Tal points out, its critical that companies build in remediation costs. These costs need to be added to the cost of any BYO initiative as part of the enterprise BYO TCO calculation. And of course, the situation is independent of whether someone is traveling domestically or not.


Bob_Egan June 7, 2012 at 6:41 pm

“him”, so true. 🙂


Lori MacVittie June 8, 2012 at 5:09 am

Great point – I hadn’t even started considering that aspect of BYOD. But given how many corporate-provided phones I’ve had to have replaced, this is a real issue.


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