Only a few hundred employees had opted into Ingram Micro's newly crafted "Bring Your Own Device" smartphone program when the finance department saw an opportunity to blow it up. The corporate contract with AT&T was coming to a close, and Ingram Micro chose not to renew.
Instead, the global distributor of technology products with 16,000 employees abruptly stopped issuing corporate BlackBerry devices, essentially transforming BYOD from a voluntary program to a mandated one. Employees were told to dip into their pockets and get a phone for both personal and business use.
"The expiration of the contracts became the moment when the business said we're going to institutionalize this across the whole group," says Ingram Micro CIO Mario Leone, adding, "I honestly expected several years for the uptake on this, but BYOD has gone a lot faster and a lot deeper."
Ingram Micro started down the road to BYOD smartphones last year with a pilot program, which picked up steam this year and culminated into a mandate for U.S. employees this summer. BYOD smartphones aren't just for Americans, either. Ingram Micro is ramping up similar programs in its operations in Europe and Asia. The goal is to convert completely to BYOD smartphones on a global scale.
"Over the next 12 months or so, you'll see an uptake that will bring [BYOD smartphones] to the same level as in the U.S., which is 100 percent," Leone says.
BYOD smartphones are poised for dramatic growth, especially with last week's arrival of the iPhone 5. Apple sold more than five million iPhone 5's in the first three days--a new iPhone sales record. You can bet many employees will want to hook up their new iPhone 5 to the corporate network.
A lot of companies are jumping on the BYOD smartphone bandwagon. VMware, for instance, enacted a BYOD smartphone mandate that is similar to Ingram Micro's. BYOD benefits range from increased worker productivity to cost savings, although the idea that BYOD leads to cost savings has stirred controversy. (For more on this, check out BYOD: If You Think You're Saving Money, Think Again.)
It should be noted that BYOD smartphones are far ahead of other devices, such as BYOD iPads. Ingram Micro has BYOD iPad and Mac programs, although these programs are not mandated. In some cases, enterprise iPad rollouts fall flat. For instance, when the city of Minneapolis began supporting iPads, adoption was surprisingly slow.
Buried in Legalese
Ingram Micro's BYOD smartphone initiative differs from most others because of its scale. That is, Ingram Micro wants to mandate BYOD smartphones for more than 4,000 phones spread out in some 40 countries.
The global nature of the rollout has led to a legal quagmire, as a sweeping BYOD policy needed to be examined country by country. Ingram Micro project manager Jason Conner has spent countless hours in meetings with HR, finance and the legal department hashing out issues such as smartphone stipends and privacy.
"The technology part was pretty easy compared to the rest of it," Conner says. Ingram Micro uses MobileIron's mobile device management software to handle such functions as remote deployment and configuration and security policies, including remote wipe.
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Privacy in BYOD policies has become a point of contention. Ingram Micro retains the right to wipe corporate data from a personal device. Conner had expected the legal department to push for more visibility into a BYOD smartphone but found the opposite to be true--legal didn't want the liability that comes with seeing personal data.
"Personal data to legal is like toxic waste, they don't want to touch it," Conner says.
Nevertheless, laws around privacy vary from country to country. In Europe, for instance, privacy issues are paramount and there are a lot of restrictions around it. In Asia, there isn't really an expectation of privacy, says Stanley Li, CEO of San Francisco-based Netswitch. (Li believes the United States can learn a lot from China about BYOD.)
Crafting BYOD policies isn't for the faint of heart, even for U.S.-only policies. The IT department at GAF Materials, for instance, has been able to support BYOD smartphones in the United States for a while. Yet only now are the final legal pieces of the policy being put into place and the program able to launch.
This lengthy process has slowed BYOD adoption. "Initially, everyone was going BYOD," says CIO Adam Noble at GAF Materials. "But we're starting to see some pullback."
You'd think forcing employees to shell out money for a personal phone to be used for business purposes, particularly in this economy, would receive a fair amount of blowback. However, this wasn't the case at Ingram Micro, says CIO Leone. Most people either already owned a smartphone or wanted one and saw this as an opportunity to make a purchase.
"It was less about the [cost of] the device than the variable cost," Leone says. "Would the reimbursement cover my usage? Did I get the right plan that will balance my business and personal needs?"
Employees looked to Leone's group to tell them which wireless carrier to go with and what plan to buy. Leone resisted, because he didn't want to be in the position of telling someone how to use their device. Ingram Micro made a compromise: Leone let telecom providers come to the offices and pitch different programs during lunch to employees.
The transition to BYOD is labor intensive, and CIOs can't leave employees blowing in the wind. At VMware, CIO Mark Egan tapped an enterprise social network used by employees to exchange ideas and tips about new carrier plans. "Carriers don't have the greatest customer service," he says, understatedly.
"We average about 20 to 25 minutes per user to convert from a corporate-liable to an individual-liable line--and we're good at it," Brandon Hampton, a founding director of Mobi Wireless Management, a software and services provider advising Fortune 100 companies on wireless strategies, told CIO.com.
BYOD: From Zero to 60...
Ingram Micro was thankful that it had put the mobile device management technology in place and ironed out the BYOD policy particulars for a global rollout before BYOD could get out of hand. It's the kind of technology trend that can mushroom.
Leone saw first-hand how a voluntary BYOD smartphone policy quickly became a mandate when an AT&T corporate contract came up for renewal. Today, he's bracing for BYOD smartphone adoption to spike in Asia. "It literally goes from one day to the next, and you have a massive uptake," he says. "That's what we're preparing for there."
Without having done the BYOD groundwork, CIOs can find themselves playing catch up. It'll take time, for instance, to craft a comprehensive BYOD policy signed off by legal, finance, HR and IT. Simply put, BYOD isn't one of those tech trends where you can take a wait-and-see approach.
"We had to deal with this because, like it or not, it was a tidal wave coming at us," Leone says.
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org