The Cost of Staying Connected

By  David Snow — September 22, 2011

It’s almost cliché to see people on trains and buses during rush hour, glued to their BlackBerry or Android phones, repeatedly checking emails and text messages and voicemail. While it may be fun to joke about the “workaholic” American corporate attitude and workers who have smartphone tunnel vision, there’s nothing funny about wasting money – pure and simple.
The Plans
In March 2011, Xigo, conducted a research audit on data gleaned from its base of 250,000 phones under advisement. The  findings indicate that average enterprise mobile phone users with wireless data plans use less than one-sixth of their monthly cap, and users with voice plans use slightly more than two-thirds of their allotted minutes. As a result, enterprises are paying for considerably more data and voice bandwidth than their employees actually need.
Despite today’s culture of constant emails, social networking, and mobile video, Xigo finds that on average, employees consume only 13% of their wireless data plan cap (the most common plan being 2GB).
Meanwhile, carriers are taking notice. AT&T and Verizon both discontinued their popular unlimited wireless data plans amid a growing shortage of wireless spectrum and the effects of “bandwidth hogs”—subscribers whose constant, large-scale data usage has the potential to slow down the entire network. As of now, Sprint is the only major wireless carrier in the U.S. that still offers an unlimited data plan, and mobile experts question how long this can be sustained.
It’s to the advantage of companies and carriers to offer wireless plans that actually make sense for average use, so the decline of unlimited data packages isn’t surprising. What these carriers aren’t doing, however, is offering you a deal. Unlimited data was too much of a good thing, but carriers are still going to encourage adoption of expensive data plans knowing full well that most users will never even approach the top end of their threshold.
When budgets are already tight, the idea of paying $90 for a high-limit data and voice plan, knowing an employee might use only 1GB of data and three hours of voice per month, is illogical. However, many companies go with larger data plans to err on the side of caution and ensure added protection against sudden overage charges and special circumstances, despite the fact that most employees rarely max out a traditional data or voice plan.
The fact of the matter is that 31% of average mobile voice plan minutes go unused every month. For the average voice plan–-which includes 513 minutes on a monthly per-line basis–-only 303 minutes are used. With a $50 plan, that’s just over $15. For companies with 2,000 smartphone-equipped employees, that’s $30,000 a month wasted, just on voice calling.
Ultimately, we all know how much money it takes just to stay afloat in the business world. Prudent companies should inspect their carrier plans on a regular basis. With a little finagling (and greater use of Wi-Fi), most employees could operate perfectly well within 50% of their current data cap. A 2GB plan ($40 a month on average) could become a 1GB plan ($20 a month on average). Combine that with a reduced voice plan for 2,000 employees and the savings in unused minutes/bytes alone would come to $840,000 annually, without denigrating productivity.
Is it time to reconsider your organization’s wireless data and voice plans? Yes, but that’s not all you need to reconsider. Managing enterprise mobility from the vantage point of a wireless plan has the potential to save a company a dramatic amount of money. Managing enterprise mobility from the vantage point of device type, however, has the potential to save a company a dramatic amount of legal hassle.
The Devices
A side effect of companies wanting their employees to be accessible in and out of the office at all times is that they need connected devices, such as smartphones. The advantages of smartphones include more sophisticated capabilities than feature phones and an impressive screen resolution that makes viewing video and browsing the Web enjoyable on these smaller devices. Combining this functionality with modest data plans may, at least in the case of social media-connected communication mavens, hamper their always-on style, but at least it won’t lead to service latency and data buffering for everyone else on the network.  
But what about device costs? Smartphones may be superior to feature phones for productivity and indubitably more useful for uninterrupted monitoring than laptops. However, at least for the present time, they can cost upwards of $500 apiece. Many employers are trying to take advantage of bulk wireless plan savings and convenience benefits of supporting and paying for a certain model of smartphone for employees (e.g. a BlackBerry Curve). Over the past several years, this practice has worked quite well, but in an increasingly global converged society, differentiating between a “business” matter and a “personal” matter is rather a random effort. 
The consumerization of IT and growing popularity of devices like the iPhone and Android-powered phones is heralding a new era of personal preference in the workplace. As accessing mobile applications and social networks has actually become a critical part of certain people’s jobs these days, there is no longer a correlation between unified device management and “professionalism.” Should employers require employees who insist on using their personal devices for work matters to pay for their device and their plan? Or should employers relish the individuality of their workforce and pay for everything?
There’s no easy answer because not all smartphones are equally capable of being managed effectively. While employees may purchase and pay the bills for fancy consumer-centric smartphones they can use everywhere they go, they still need to access their company’s network and data—material governed by corporate IT policies. Some employees may prefer an iPhone to a BlackBerry, but comparing the security and enterprise manageability of iOS versus BlackBerry Enterprise Server is incongruous. Every device that accesses a corporate network can in turn damage that network with malware, unstable applications, and unsecured data usage. Leaving the choice up to employees implies that they are savvy technologists who understand the ramifications of toggling between business and personal access. This generally is a baseless assumption.
There are plenty of companies that just can’t afford either scenario, whether it involves paying for a standard device or dealing with the repercussions of having a swarm of different devices hooked up to a sensitive internal network. What is possible – and free – however, is teaching and enforcing mobile security and data management best practices. It’s not unreasonable to require employees to only use smartphones with certain standard, company-approved technology prerequisites (i.e., automatic data deletion in cases of loss or theft). It’s also not unreasonable to let employees disconnect when they’re away from the office.
Ultimately, individual autonomy ends where endangering corporate security and infrastructural integrity begins. Enterprise mobility doesn’t need to break the bank for any business, and to do so would be antithetical to the very intention of enabling a mobile workforce. Automated tools can help companies cut down on voice and data costs and negotiate special corporate wireless plans to counterbalance the upfront cost of device purchases. No matter which devices or wireless and voice plans your business pursues, make sure that your system remains organized.
David Snow is CMO of Xigo, LLC, a provider of wireless telecom expense management services.


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