Analyst Perspective: Evaluating an Individual-Liable Mobile Device Policy

Canalys senior analyst Pete Cunningham leads research and analysis for the firm's EMEA portfolio of mobility-focused advisory services. He provides clients with confidential advice on bringing new mobile devices and services to market, and how hardware and software vendors and operators should engage with each other. Prior to joining Canalys, Cunningham was head of product marketing for Panasonic Mobile.

Cunningham says there are two key drivers currently pushing enterprises to consider implementing an individual-liable device policy. "It's being driven by the tougher economic situation we've found ourselves in over the last couple of years - and also by the availability of smartphones," he says. "Individuals are finding themselves with smartphones in their hands, and they're thinking, 'If I can connect to Facebook, or I can connect to the Internet, or I can connect to my email, why can't I use this in the business?'"

It's a logical step -- just as Research In Motion and Microsoft have built their brands in the enterprise space and then expanded into the consumer space, Cunningham notes, many of their competitors are now moving in the opposite direction. "The iPhone, Palm with webOS, and Android have started in the consumer space, and they're now filtering into the business world, with varying degrees of success," he says.

Mobile management dilemma

Still, Cunningham says economic conditions are providing an equally strong driver for the implementation of individual-liable device policies. "We've done some end user research talking to IT managers… and in Western Europe, the two biggest barriers for deploying smartphones are cost of devices and cost of data," he says. "And if you allow individuals to bring their own devices in, obviously those two issues go away."

A company that chooses to do so, Cunningham says, has a wide range of options in terms of how to compensate employees (or not). "It could be that you contribute something towards that device, it could be that you contribute something towards the monthly plan, but some organizations will just say, 'Okay, if you want to bring your device in, that's your choice -- we're not going to contribute anything,'" he says.

Companies can also implement restrictions on the range of devices permitted. "Even if you're allowing individuals to bring in their own devices, you may still specify, 'Okay, I've got a whitelist of devices, which are x, y, and z, and I don't want anyone bringing in an Android device,'" Cunningham says.

It's also possible, Cunningham notes, to run a corporate-liable and an individual-liable solution in parallel. "You can restrict what your users are doing with their personal-liable devices -- and that gives you an opportunity to evaluate a platform at close hand before deciding whether to allow it into your corporate-liable program… it may be that you allow individuals to bring [a given device] in under your personal-liable program but then monitor the suitability of those devices to bring them into your corporate program," he says.

At a basic level, Cunningham says there are several key steps any company should take in allowing individual-liable devices into the enterprise. "You've got to have some sort of policy management in place," he says. "There's got to be an understanding from both parties that the individual has to concede a degree of control over that device, but equally the employer has to acknowledge that they don't own that device."

Other steps, Cunningham says, include the implementation and enforcement of password protection, a basic level of device management (the ability to lock and wipe the device remotely, as well as backup and synchronization capabilities), and some restrictions on device capabilities (access to mobile applications, use as an external hard drive, control of memory cards, file transfer over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, etc.).

In the long term, though, Cunningham says this is just a phase -- he expects enterprises to shift back towards corporate-liable device policies over time. "I think over the next three to five years, companies will start to recognize the strategic benefits of mobility solutions, and we'll see the trend sway back towards corporate-liable deployments… At the moment, a lot of these decisions are primarily cost-driven," he says.


mobile, IT, mobile IT, mobile management