Oil giant BP is pioneering a "digital consumer" initiative that will give some employees an allowance to buy their own IT equipment and take care of their own support needs.
The project, which is still at the pilot stage, gives select BP staff an annual allowance — believed to be around $1,000 — to buy their own computing equipment and use their own expertise and the manufacturer's warranty and support instead of using BP's IT support team.
Access to the scheme is tightly controlled and those employees taking part must demonstrate a certain level of IT proficiency through a computer driving licence-style certification, as well as signing a diligent use agreement.
The initiative is being led by Jim Ginsburgh, vice president of enterprise architecture at BP, who told ZDNet UK's sister site, silicon.com, in an exclusive interview: "You have to be patched to current; your firewall up; be on a current version of antivirus; and not go to inappropriate Web sites. There are consequences of ignoring those obligations but in exchange for following these rules you get a lot of freedom."
The scheme is also only suitable for certain types of employees. Ginsburgh said: "It's not for everybody and it is voluntary. One of the conditions is that you are a lightweight user of applications — such as an information worker and traveller — not those using legacy applications. I haven't connected to anything other than the Internet for four years."
Those staff selected can choose their equipment from BP's preferred supplier roster, which usually enables them to get a healthy discount, but Ginsburgh said if they want something else or can get it cheaper elsewhere "that's fine too".
BP provides the employee with the current and licensed versions of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, and still provides IT support for corporate applications but the rest is then down to the employee.
Ginsburgh said: "Self-service is about convenience and sense of control. It's about saving money but also about providing people with a sense of freedom and choice about the technology they use."
Ginsburgh said staff on the digital allowance scheme have also responded well to the trust placed in them and to their responsibilities and obligations. The evidence is in the figures — in the 21 months the scheme has been running the average user has spent just $15 out of their allowance on IT support.
He said: "As soon as it is your responsibility you take better care of it. You are less likely to leave it at the X-ray machine at the airport or in the back of a car, and you are less likely to download questionable stuff because it is your machine. We have created a powerful incentive for people to keep their machines in shape."
BP won't say how many employees are currently piloting the scheme and Ginsburgh said any further rollout will be closely monitored.
He said: "For a long time in the future this will not be for everybody. It is for the portion of the workforce who are information workers, travellers, people who take their services from the Web and are not subject to lots of regulatory restrictions."
As for future developments around the consumerisation of technology, Ginsburgh said developments such as Amazon's EC2 and S3 cheap storage and data hosting services — which cost from as little as 15 cents per month per GB, and 10 cents per instance per hour for hosting — offer intriguing possibilities for corporate IT departments in the future.