Costs, productivity drive BYOC in Asia

Region's companies increasingly look to "Bring Your Own Computer" for cost savings and productivity gains, but not all should consider option, advise observers.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Enterprises in Asia are moving to formalize "Bring Your Own Computer" (BYOC), or allowing employees to buy their own laptops for use at work or leisure. However, industry observers have noted that not every organization ought to consider the option.

Dane Anderson, Springboard Research's CEO and executive vice president of research, noted in an e-mail interview that BYOC is an emerging trend in Asia. The interest in BYOC, he pointed out, was loosely a result of the "consumerization" of IT and desire of organizations to keep employees satisfied and improve productivity.

Anderson said: "The divisions between personal and business computing are blurring, forcing employees to toggle between completely different personal computing devices, applications and habits, [and this] reduces efficiency."

Most organizations, for example, do not have policies requiring employees to carry separate mobile phones for work and personal use, because doing so would be inconvenient and inefficient for employees, he said.

Debate over cost savings
Intel is one organization that has begun experimenting with BYOC. In December, its CIO Diane Bryant told ZDNet Asia that, to address the emergence of consumerization, the chipmaker embarked on a pilot that saw the IT team provide tech support to contract employees' personal notebooks. This replaced the need for Intel to issue laptops to these employees.

Bryant added that the significant size of the company's pool of contract employees pool meant there were substantial cost savings involved.

Virtualization vendor Citrix Systems also projects "significant savings" for companies that implement BYOC.

While he was unable to reveal actual figures, Citrix's area vice president for Southeast Asia Yaj Malik, said the company's own BYOC program eliminates maintenance cost since the onus of upkeeping the system now lies in the employee's hands. Users under the scheme are allocated US$2,000 to purchase a notebook of their choice, he added.

"One requirement of the BYOC program is that the device has a minimum three-year support and maintenance contract, which employees are responsible for," Malik explained in an e-mail. "As the cost of the device is only a small percentage of the total cost of a desktop over a three-year period, this results in significant savings to an organization."

Citrix's BYOC initiative was first implemented in end-2008, initially involving employees in the United States, and was extended last year to staff based in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. To date, about 10 percent of the company's global workforce, including employees in Hong Kong and Japan, have participated in the program. Citrix expects more to join the initiative when it is re-launched this year, said Malik.

James Loo, CIO of logistics and supply chain business YCH Group, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that while the organization does not have a formal BYOC program, it has catered to requests from some IT staff to use their personal machines for work.

"[They] understand we will have to 'scrub'and 'harden' their machines before they can plug onto the network at the office," he said.

Loo added that it was "not impossible" to roll out a formalized program for the company's entire workforce, but noted that it may be premature to do so at this stage.

"The real issue is…whether the staff feel a computer should be a piece of provided equipment issued to them to perform their work, rather than them having to invest in one themselves," he said. "And of course all subsequent maintenance and upgrading of the machine will be at the individual's [expense, as opposed to the organization's].

"It will take a while to change mindsets, [possibly not] until the new generation that grew up with laptop takes over [as] management," he added.

However, Robin Simpson, Gartner's research director for mobile and wireless and open source, said BYOC initiatives do not necessarily guarantee cost savings.

"One issue that complicates costs is that BYOC companies often provide a stipend to employees to purchase their own computer," the analyst said in an e-mail. "In many countries, this has fringe benefits tax implications so the company may be obliged to pay the fringe benefits tax as well."

BYOC not for all
Noting that BYOC is less common in large enterprises in Asia compared to North America and Europe, Sydney-based Simpson also pointed to challenges in such initiatives.

"If the enterprise doesn't own it, the enterprise can't manage or control it," he said. "This brings challenges of [ensuring] up-to-date virus protection, software license monitoring, operating system and application patching, and configuration management."

"The enterprise needs to completely change the way it manages security, authentication and access control to corporate networks and data," he added. "This is possible, but requires considerable effort and costs."

BYOC, according to Simpson, is also not meant for every organization--such as, those that require specialized PC-based applications to perform a business process.

"Many organizations have hundreds of legacy PC applications that are dependent on a particular version of the PC operating system and other software," he noted. "On the other hand, BYOC can work quite well for those organizations that have already made a major effort to convert their enterprise applications to Web-based access."

"The major requirements then are for the employee-owned PC to have a standards-based Web browser, a compatible virtual private network client, and some form of role-based access and authentication control for the corporate portals and Web applications," he said.

Springboard's Anderson concurred, pointing out "there are indeed risks" associated with going down the BYOC path. "However, for companies with the skills to overcome the potential pitfalls it can help them address dissatisfaction from employees that often feel restricted by what they perceive to be overzealous IT departments."

Intel's Bryant last month noted that she does not believe Intel will reach a point where the majority of its employees will be involved in the BYOC program. "We're so incredibly dependent on compute capability and compute technology to deliver our products," she said. "The complexity of a microprocessor design is tremendous, and we need to make sure our internal employees always have the latest and greatest, highest-performing client solutions as possible--that's core to their productivity."

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