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  • Intranet Book: Bring Your Own Device Concepts and Their Strengths
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All of your employees have smartphones. So why should you buy additional business equipment for these people? In my opinion that’s absurd, even if it’s still a very common occurrence today. I don’t want to hide the fact that while we are sitting here, many of our corporate customers still have to roll out Linchpin Mobile to private devices. (But I very much hope that will have happened by the next time we talk.) That nobody in your organization wants to see secret company data on their employees’ private smartphones appears to be the norm, right? The whole thing sounds weird and even somewhat scary, doesn’t it? Despite that, I still want to try to convince you that it’s inevitable that it will take place sooner or later.

At this juncture, however, I don’t really want to go into how important smartphones are today again. But just let me recount an experience I had recently in this regard. Recently, we hired our first two full-time employees in the USA, a man and a woman. He had an old Android smartphone. Everything was ok. She had the latest generation iPhone that cost over 1,000 euros, however, and said that she would like to keep it. 

For context, you need to know that I work at a company where the IT department would like to see company data restricted just to company devices. We simply solve this problem by giving our employees the latest generation mobile phones with a high-end data contract, and pay all the costs, even those for additional private use. So, as I said, this new employee already had a smartphone that was on par with ours. I assumed that us covering the monthly costs would make her second (private) phone superfluous. But what she was actually planning to do was to use her work device as a second mobile phone and carry two devices around with her all the time. 

What? You say that’s something completely normal for you? In your organization people have two mobile phones – one private and one for work? Well, as I said, I find that completely absurd. Firstly, carrying two large smartphones around with you all the time is completely impractical. And no one does it all the time. Secondly, a significant part of the line of reasoning becomes redundant for me wanting to use a modern intranet when the intranet phone is not my main device. Because then I hardly ever look at it.

A modern intranet does not just offer the latest news. It is a melting pot where all activities converge. The immensely high level of attention is the reason why company managers want to write news, because they are certain it will be read on the intranet. And the news, and of course all other applications we’re presently discussing here, keep raising the level of attention. This melting pot confirms and supports itself.

It is extremely difficult to get an intranet like this up and running. The whole thing works like a network effect, however: every snippet of information ensures that the system takes even better hold and from a certain point in time, the high level of attention causes the system to start supporting itself. 

In my opinion, therefore, it is much better if the corporate intranet runs alongside private apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and any other apps employees use. Then the intranet is just a click away and is not on a separate device that may have been forgotten in the office. 

I don’t want to give you the impression here that I’m trying to motivate our employees to work on weekends. And I’m quite aware that some of our customers don’t read their email between 6 in the evening and 6 in the morning. You can think that’s either good or not.

At this point I would like to add that every colleague in our company is allowed to have a work smartphone, whether they need it for work or not. This is, of course, accompanied by certain “obligations.” And I also know we have employees who have all their private apps on their work device. Which is not a problem! But then, of course, the colleague must be willing to be available in their own free time in case of “emergencies.” 

If something urgent really does come up and I want to reach a colleague on weekends, it’s better for them to have their mobile phone with them, right? A second device is definitely not an advantage. That’s because people will always leave their work phones at home in the evening and on weekends, or leave it turned off in their pocket or handbag.

In doing this, many organizations cement and preserve a state of their own choosing that makes it difficult to establish a mobile intranet. As long as you, as a business owner, retain control over how many devices your employees (have to) carry around with them, this is all just fine. 

In more and more industries, however, (presumably also in yours) this new “genus” of employees has started to show its face and deliver specific requirements to your door as an employer. These people have a clear idea of what they want and what they don’t want to do. They want to work no more than four days a week, although they could work full time and even do overtime. During the application phase, they are already busy asking about their freedoms, how they can organize their own work, whether they can work from a home office, and so on. Not every job candidate acts like this, of course. Many are still happy to just get a cool job with your company and get paid fairly. But those that you absolutely want to have and keep are usually being courted by other companies as well. And that places coveted people in a very good negotiating position. 

In the Silicon Valley, workers in the tech industry already have lists of requirements that a job has to fulfill. If a company can’t keep up, it represents a criterion for exclusion. 

What does your company do when employees are no longer willing to accept a second device? Or put another way: over the next ten years, how do you think your organization will go about making employees carry two devices against their will?

In my opinion, companies should give up this fight immediately. But I suspect that it will still take a while for the reality of it to kick in. 

The other side of the coin is that many organizations can’t afford to buy smartphones for all their employees. Nowadays, reasonably acceptable Android devices are available for less than 200 euros apiece. But when you have 35,000 factory workers, we are already talking about a 7 million euro budget – not to mention the follow-up costs linked to their acquisition, distribution, and administration and equipping them with software. So, MDM solutions offer several interesting options here. But even if you ignore the challenges discussed before, you will feel very differently once you’ve seen the cost estimate: solutions like this cost around 1 to 5 euros per head per month, which amounts to an impressive 2.1 to 10.5 million euros over a five-year period with a workforce of 35,000 employees. And it gets even worse. Lots of organizations don’t even have email addresses for their employees. The same company, which is actually real, would have to pay 40 euros per head per year for their employees to have email accounts in the Microsoft network. Extrapolated over five years again, that’s an additional 7 million euros in license fees. 

It goes without saying, of course, that companies like this earn enough to cover the costs. But why should they? In the end, we’re talking about a digital intranet, an information and collaboration platform. In the world in which we live, companies do not spend tens of millions of euros on something like that. That may very well happen in isolated cases, but not as a rule. 

We have fortunately solved this problem with Linchpin so that we have a user scale in place for licensing Atlassian’s basic Confluence software that allows for an unlimited number of employees. This applies from 10,000 employees upward. This means that additional employees from the 10,001st person do not incur any additional costs. Other smaller providers usually also offer flat rates. And their solutions work without Microsoft user accounts and email addresses. This represents an economically sensible implementation for extending intranet communication to all wage-earning employees.

Although it’s great to have an intranet solution that doesn’t incur any additional costs and can securely access the intranet behind a firewall over a gateway service, the question is where are the mobile phones going to come from? Well, from the employees, of course. And what about security? Sufficient guarantees for that already exist today. Let me explain briefly: 

Most users activate the biometric lock that modern smartphones come with today that is even more secure than a house key. These forms of security primarily include fingerprints and facial recognition. However, even six-digit codes or unlock patterns are somewhat secure. 

A well-designed intranet app will also offer options for additional security. These stop family members from surfing the intranet, for instance, if they have temporary access to the device. 

In the latest versions of Android and iOS, the apps are also kept in encrypted containers that stop the data, which is loaded and stored there, from being viewed on other apps or external programs. The security of these operating systems is constantly getting better and the features for maintaining data secrecy are improving all the time. In light of this, it makes a lot of sense to talk to your IT department to see how you can facilitate your employees using their existing personal devices. 

From an ethical point of view, the whole thing does have a downside, however. Some companies have already succeeded (at least initially) in presenting a Bring Your Own Device strategy as a voluntary program. This results in an elegant solution (provided that you are using an intranet solution like the one I described that incurs no additional costs above a specific number of users) that can make implementation cost-neutral for your company. Good! Perhaps your intranet app also lets you download information from Wi-Fi networks, which means that you do not need to incur any costs for data plans. Even better! But what about compensation for using a personal device for work reasons? From an ethical point of view, that would be appropriate wouldn’t it? 

You’ve probably considered the arguments for and against this question for a while now. Anyway, we have already come across work councils that think it’s a good idea for employees to have more access to information. The problem, though, is that apps like these also create gateways into employees’ free time, and the majority of employee representatives therefore view them critically. Sooner or later, you will probably have to discuss whether the work-related use of personal devices should also be subject to compensation in your company.

In reality, the use of personal mobile phones is certainly much safer than most IT managers would like to admit. And in the long run, it is also inevitable. If you (like me) work at a company that employs 190 people, you have the easy option of paying for all the equipment and additional costs for your employees. That makes parts of our discussion here redundant. But if your organization is larger, the matter will probably be more complex and complicated.

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