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Court ruling the 'death knell' for BYOD?

As featured on the BillingViews blog

A recent court ruling in California could provide mobile operators with an unexpected revenue boost from billing. In short, the ruling states that companies must reimburse employees for work-related use of personal cellphones – the practice commonly known as BYOD (bring your own device).

That alone may not seem an unreasonable thing, after all, staff should be reimbursed for work-related expenses, but in the case of BYOD, there are a number of grey areas that many enterprises could find too difficult to address.

The whole concept of BYOD has been quite a challenge for many businesses. Whilst there are obvious cost advantages of having staff buying their own mobile devices, plus the convenience to staff of having their phone of choice and not having to carry multiple devices, the issue of security has always been predominant.

Most enterprises have been able to address security with the help of apps, VPN access and updates to core and cloud-based servers allowing staff full access to corporate systems as well as being able to use their devices privately. This has also generated a massive sub-market of BYOD specialist products, but the issue of how they connect and who covers the cost has been mainly left to the enterprise to determine.

The ruling, the first directly related to BYOD usage, says: “whether the employees have cellphone plans with unlimited minutes or limited minutes, the reimbursement owed is a reasonable percentage of their cellphone bills.” There was no mention of data usage associated with the employee’s plan, so can it be assumed that this should be included? After all, for BYOD, this would normally constitute the bigger portion of a BYOD phone bill.

This ruling could open doors to other reimbursements for any personal devices, apps and data used partially for work and whilst there are vendors providing tools to help enterprises track expenses it may soon become all too difficult and costly for many small to medium businesses.

There is no doubt that savvy vendors of expense and billing software will try and fill the gap but ideally, if mobile operators could provide the service, it would be a source of new revenue or a market differentiator for them in addressing the potentially lucrative SME business.

That is, of course, assuming that they have the capability in-house to provide the service. One option would be to split out the ‘work’ calls from the customer account and bill it to a corporate account but this would require a database of numbers that could be tracked. An alternative might be that any transactions happening in the work ‘container’ of a BYOD phone or tablet gets automatically billed to the company, never appearing as usage on the employee’s personal phone bill.

Anyone in billing will know that this is not necessarily an easy task, but it is doable. It might involve some level of policy management to cope with ‘flat plan’ percentages, calls and eventually data usage for work on the BYOD device.

Of course, if it all gets too difficult it may just kill off a good part of the BYOD market. If it is easier to provide a device tied to the corporate account only to be used for work, then the problem goes away, but it will take us back to the days of disgruntled staff having to carry around multiple devices that use different operating systems, need different chargers, etc etc.

This does not make for happy staff, and unhappy staff tend to leave. BYOD has rapidly become a favorite of both staff and employers for obvious reasons, but this one law aimed at ensuring equity for workers may rebound adversely on the industry. It is doubtful that it will be, as some observers claim, the ‘death knell’ of BYOD. On the other hand it may be another revenue lifeline for operators that can provide an easy billing alternative to customers.