The idea of a business owner being required to pay for phone calls their employees make from their mobile devices doesn’t set well with a lot of employers. Yet that is exactly what may be happening in the near future, following a mid-August California Appellate Court ruling.
Reactions from pundits, legal experts and analysts are all over the place. Some speculate the ruling could mean the end of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Others, including Forrester Research, say BYOD will remain “legitimate and relevant” in the wake of recent legal activity.
“Many firms continue to show interest in deploying BYOD programs – and this ruling won’t stem that tide,” asserts an analysis of the ruling, Quick Take: California’s Reimbursement Ruling Won’t Stem BYOD, Forrester Research issued on August 25, 2014.
What It Really Means
The wide spectrum of analysis can, in part, be blamed on the limited and sometimes vague nature of the California ruling:
- The court decision, Cochran vs. Schwan’s Home Service, only applies to voice calls. Legal experts and others, though, expect legal interpretations of the law to extend to data plans and other communications expenses incurred by end users.
- The decision is only applicable to employees living in California.
- The court ruled that employers must reimburse employees for a “reasonable percentage” of their phone bill, even for plans with unlimited minutes. But it doesn’t stipulate how that percentage should be calculated.
The unambiguous message of the ruling is that BYOD is not the cost cutter that proponents have made it out to be. It never really was. Ample evidence exists to debunk claims that BYOD policies are less expensive than corporate-liable approaches, such as COPE (Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled) and CYOD (Choose Your Own Device).
The court ruling also signals the readiness of the legal system to draw clear boundaries between work and personal use of mobile devices. Those boundaries have steadily blurred over the years, partially due to a shortage of reliable and efficient solutions that separately track work and personal voice and data expenses.
On September 11th, BlackBerry acquired Movirtu, a leading provider of technology that allows mobile carriers to offer split-billing services. Following the announcement of the acquisition, BlackBerry Enterprise President John Sims said Movirtu’s software strongly complements BlackBerry’s Balance and Secure Work Space (SWS) partitioning technology, which creates separate work and personal profiles on a single smartphone or tablet. Together, added Sims, the solutions will lead to a more equitable allocation of cost and accounting for employees and employers.
But the real lesson to be learned from Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service is that organizations should put their energies into exploiting the benefits of enterprise mobility instead of pinching pennies.
Case in Point
According to court documents and other accounts, Schwan’s Home Service, a subsidiary of the multi-billion dollar The Schwan Food Company, was taken to court by sales representatives who were using their personal mobile phones to help facilitate deliveries and sales transactions.
Coordinating deliveries and cultivating relationships to increase customer satisfaction and sales opportunities is a textbook-use case for enterprise mobility. Imagine the productivity improvements if Schwan’s workforce were equipped with smartphones and customized apps that could automate much of the food-delivery process.
Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. Consider the success of the Orlando Brewing Company, which mobilized its sales force more than a year ago. Thousands of businesses and government agencies are also embracing mobility to make employees more productive, drive increases in revenue and improve competitive standing.
Bottom line: Businesses need to treat enterprise mobility as an investment, rather than an expense. If an organization is able to make an employee more effective and efficient through mobility, it should waste no time in making sure she has access to the right technology – regardless of who pays for it. However, that doesn’t mean the company should arm every employee with the latest smartphone or tablet. BYOD might remain a perfect fit for organizations whose employees use their mobile phones only to stay plugged into corporate email when out of the office.
Relationships Trump Budget
While it’s not true across the board, businesses that have embraced BYOD in order to shift the expense of workforce mobilization onto employees lack the mindset to compete effectively in a mobile-first environment. If you’re worried about who’s paying for a mobile device, chances are you’re not thinking about how mobile endpoints can innovate your business.
It’s time to abandon pennywise thinking when it comes to enterprise mobility. If business leaders at Schwan’s Home Service cared more about customer satisfaction than mobile phone expenses, chances are they would not only have avoided the court room but may have also expanded their customer base.