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Editorial: Bring-your-own-device program a win-win for feds, agencies

Aug. 19, 2012 - 01:11PM   |  
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As early as this week, agencies will get new guidance on how to roll out “bring-your-own-device” programs that encourage employees to use their personal mobile phones and tablets for work purposes.

Agencies leaders should seize this opportunity by offering BYOD programs, including reimbursing employees for some or all of their work-related voice and data costs.

This is a win-win. Employees would need to carry only one phone around. The government would save millions by not having to buy BlackBerrys or other smartphones for staff, and it would benefit from a workforce that is more versatile and productive.

There is some precedence. A handful of states already run some form of BYOD program. Delaware, for instance, provides eligible employees a flat $40 each month as reimbursement for their data and voice costs. State officials calculate they are saving $80 per employee in costs to issue BlackBerrys — a 50 percent cut in cost for every phone. And that does not count any gain in workforce productivity.

Some agencies will be reluctant to reimburse employees. It is a cost that, in today’s budget environment, would have to come out of another program or account.

But providing employees some reimbursement for their costs is the fair and right thing to do, just as it is when employees use their own vehicles for work purposes.

A federal BYOD policy, however, will require employees to cede some control of their devices, to include allowing agencies to install software that ensures proper security settings are maintained and that mobile access to federal networks and data is carefully managed.

With this comes potential friction over how far-reaching the federal government can be in monitoring use of employees’ personal mobile devices. There absolutely must be a clear firewall prohibiting wanton intrusion into employees’ personal use of their smartphones.

At the same time, workers who participate will have to agree that under specified conditions — security threats or investigations, for example — the government may have cause to audit use of the phones.

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