The emerging “bring your own device” trend reflects a growing gap between mobile operators’ offerings and the usage behaviors that customers exhibit in the rapidly evolving mobile market. The term, BYOD for short, describes the growing preference among corporate employees to choose their own mobile devices – rather than have one assigned by the company – and use them for business purposes. It exacerbates pre-existing issues relating to co-mingling of personal and business use of mobile devices.
On May 16, Amdocs announced findings from a survey it commissioned regarding BYOD. Conducted by Heavy Reading, the survey found that the majority of its CSP respondents – 73 percent – “expect to see a 10-25 percent increase in BYOD device requests from business customers in the coming year.” Further it found that enterprises “are asking their service providers for unique BYOD features, such as the ability to split bills between personal and business use (52 percent) and the ability to disable business functions, such as email and IM, when users switch to personal mode (52 percent).”
Let’s discuss one caveat quickly; the respondents represent 35 service providers across geographic 4 regions, but include telco and cable providers in addition to mobile operators. The mobile respondents would seem most relevant. While the macro trends identified in the study seem rational, the precise percentages are tougher to rely on without a deeper look at the raw data. The business issue that jumps out is that BYOD reflects just how personal mobile devices have become. Operators’ subscription plans don’t do a great job of embracing the multi-device lifestyle. They also maintain walls between consumer and business offerings, even as trends like BYOD make such walls increasingly irrelevant from a user behavior point of view.
In the US, the distinction between personal and business use of mobile devices has been a tax related issue for a few years. The upshot of this debate is that the personal use portion of an employer provided and paid mobile device is considered taxable income. Separating personal and business use for tax accounting purposes is burdensome for employers. In some cases, employers simply forbid personal use of company devices. In others, employers provide an allowance to employees to subsidize business use of either a personal or company-provided device. In still others, businesses push the accounting burden onto employees, requiring them to submit excruciatingly detailed expense reports; in many cases, employees just give up and eat the cost. Whatever the model, the BYOD trend is another example of how operators’ offerings can struggle to keep up with expanding requirements in the mobile arena.
Contracts are already problematic. As plans proliferate and the service set expands enterprises often struggle to manage the device and plan inventories. A lack of optimization drives unwanted expense. The lack of effective subscription management tools from carriers can create frustration and encourages enterprises to shift portions of their user population from carrier to carrier based purely on pricing and discounting. As BYOD becomes more common, it should shift enterprises’ focus to usage, but most carriers don’t deliver usage detail in ways that easily support enterprise customers’ accounting processes. There also are few, in any, plans or tools that allow users to switch from business to personal mode and, in doing so, change which subscription applies to usage at a specific time. Further, subscriptions are still largely one to one with devices – rather than applying to the individual user, as a Netflix subscription does, and allowing multiple personal (or business devices) to work off of a single subscription.
So, while BYOD is becoming the trend du jour, it is yet another example of how mobile usage and lifestyle factors are evolving faster than mobile service offerings, particularly in the more complex enterprise segment of the market. Enterprise mobile offerings would benefit from a refresh of the analytical tools and types of plans operators’ offer their largest customers to align them better with the current state of user behavior and requirements for enterprise accounting and tax compliance.