Cost-saving benefits of the BYOD trend may be coming to an end for US businesses. A California court last week ruled that companies must reimburse employees for at least part of the expense for using their personal devices for work purposes.
Yet while the ruling may make BYOD less palatable for employers, it will open new professional and managed services opportunities for solution providers to measure and track mobility expenses.
The case, formally known as Cochran v Schwan's Home Service, tested employers' liability for mobility expenses even when the employee holds a service contract and uses the same device for personal purposes.
The case has run the gamut of the California courts and the appeals process has now been exhausted, which means USemployers must create a policy when the ruling takes effect in September.
In rendering judgment, the courts said: "We hold that when employees must use their personal cellphones for work-related calls, Labour Code section 2802 requires the employer to reimburse them. Whether the employees have cellphone plans with unlimited minutes or limited minutes, the reimbursement owed is a reasonable percentage of their cellphone bills."
The court ruling is a major blow for BYOD-loving companies in the US, which have shed billions of dollars in telephony and wireless data costs as employees adopted and paid for their own mobile devices and service plans.
A decade ago, when many new employees showed up for the first day of work, they were shown their desk, given email and network credentials, and issued a cellphone with a service plan paid by the company. Cellphones and Blackberries were expensive, but worth it as they expedited communications and business processes.
Businesses hated paying employee wireless plans partly because, as everyone knew, people would use their work devices for personal calls, emails and web surfing. Separating the two use-cases and expenses was difficult if not impossible.
The BYOD trend changed all that. Smartphones and flat-rate plans made mobile devices more accessible and usable. Employees started buying their own devices and paying for their own plans with the expectation their employers would allow connections to email, files and applications.
A large part of the BYOD movement was spurred by flat-rate service plans. Rather than paying by the minute or data consumption, flat-rate plans provided unlimited voice and data usage that made mobile connectivity more affordable for the average person.
The advent of smartphones and tablets gave individuals a platform for getting more personal and professional use out of mobile connectivity.
While US businesses initially resisted BYOD out of security concerns, most have adopted policies to support mobile devices and allow users to connect to corporate resources. Cost cutting is only one benefit; employers gained greater productivity as employees are now persistently connected.
How employers are supposed to calculate professional usage and reimbursements is an open question, and that could open new product and service capabilities for tech providers.
Technology already exists for compartmentalising business applications on personal-owned smartphones and tablets.
Good Technology, for instance, has an application which segregates professional access. Such technologies could be used to calculate a percentage of professional use and calculate reimbursements.
Additionally, providers and telephony agents could pick up additional consulting and assessment work. Many resellers already use telephony and data expense assessment to optimise the voice and data contracts of clients. Calculating employee wireless reimbursement could add another dimension to such services.
How reimbursements should be calculated wasn't defined by the court. Resolving this issue will likely fall upon providers and telephony agents as service contracts and costs vary from carrier to carrier; usage under one contract may have different costs under a competing plan.
US courts are often criticised for ambiguous rulings in technology cases that impose requirements that don't take into account the implications to the industry. In this case, ambiguity could catalyse untold consulting opportunities.
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