Is It Time for Employee-Provisioned Hardware?

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A Quiet Revolution

Fiering notes that numerous unsanctioned, employee-owned notebooks and desktop PCs are accessing enterprise networks. Recent published surveys have shown the number is considerably higher than anyone, let alone IT, ever imagined. A Gartner user survey found that 30 percent of workers brought unsanctioned devices to the office. So CIOs should at least explore official bring-your-own laptop programs.

IT leaders are reluctant to publicize these efforts. "A lot of them are unsure about it and unsure of the backlash they may face from auditors and others," says Fiering. Some of the uncertainty is unfounded; IT organizations have dealt with similar issues in giving nonenterprise devices from contractors or partners secure access to their networks. One IT leader at a Fortune 500 company says he cannot talk openly about his forays into employee-provisioned hardware but notes that "when it comes to buying a commodity item, a motivated consumer will invariably get a better deal than an enterprise."

"It's still early days," says Fiering. Self-provisioning tends to work well in small-company environments.

Kearns & West is a public relations and dispute resolution consulting firm with 35 employees and a principal who also oversees information technology. It started a buy-your-own hardware program five years ago, although leaders admit it took a leap of faith to move away from the company-owned model. "We decide to get rid of our depressing laptop graveyard," says Sharif Ebrahim, a Kearns & West principal. "The program is a success because it lets everyone pick the packages and bundles that best suit their work. The road warriors go with the light laptops, the graphic designers go with the Macs."

Instead of one IT director making decisions, "50 percent of which are likely to be wrong," says Ebrahim, the firm's employees now have newer hardware and software than they would receive by waiting for the next refresh. Kearns & West maintains a few corporate-owned laptops that employees can check out as necessary.

Ultimately, the trend will continue to pick up steam, says Fiering, but it won't happen overnight. "There are tools for PC virtualization that will allow companies to reach out to noncompany-owned devices with full security. That market is still maturing," she says. "And frankly, IT organizations need to do more work on the back end with their own networks, policies and decisions about what kinds of users to involve, what kind of equipment they need to buy." And that will take time.

The Future of Provisioning

Still, employee provisioning of laptops is not for every company. "It can open up large companies to a whole host of issues that keep CIOs up at night," says Fiering. "I don't think it will ever be universal. You're going to have high-security or military-type situations where it just doesn't make sense."

Employee provisioning isn't likely to go away. In fact, cell phones are already the latest IT-sanctioned bring-your-own program. User-owned smartphones and PDAs are often tolerated because they are small and easier to turn a blind eye to, say Fiering and Gammage. But employees use them to access and store company data, so CIOs should consider putting policies in place around such mobile devices.

Motorola says it has deployed a successful mobile self-provisioning process used globally. Employees have provisioned more than 14,000 smartphones in 33 countries, saving the company an estimated $400,000 in annual support costs and eliminating long wait times for employees eager to sync their new device with corporate e-mail.

This story, "Is It Time for Employee-Provisioned Hardware?" was originally published by CIO.

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