More employees are using a personal laptop as primary work PC

Should businesses let employees use their personal laptops at work? For 10 percent of mid-size businesses and enterprises, the answer is more than yes; they have employees using personal portables as primary work PCs. Today, Gartner released survey results from second quarter (why so late in the year, I ask) stating that number and its expected rise to 14 percent by mid-2010. Gartner surveyed 528 technology managers from companies with more than 500 employees.

I'm actually surprised the number isn't higher, and surely it is in other categories, such as smartphones phones. Official policy is one thing, what employees might actually do is another. According to various analyst reports, most enterprises only started deploying laptops, PDAs or smartphones after employees used them for work purposes.

According to Gartner, 90 percent of companies have some kind of policy governing personal device usage. Forty-three percent have enacted policies for using personal devices in the workplace, while 48 percent prohibit them. Confession: Regardless of policy, I've used personal equipment for better part of a decade. Employers issued equipment, which went right into a closet.

Even the stiffest corporate IT manager resisters have in this weak economy reason to lighten up policies on personal devices in the workplace. "While employee-owned notebook programs started to appear a couple of years ago, the acceptance of such schemes by organizations varies greatly," Annette Jump, Gartner research director, said in a statement. "However, in the current climate of cost containment, large enterprises are exploring all possibilities offered by alternative client computing architectures and device solution, and that includes employee-owned PCs."

In a separate statement, Meike Escherich, Gartner principal research analyst, said that a "growing numbers of employees are asking to use personally owned notebooks for work and an increasing proportion of companies will meet these requests through employee-owned notebook programs, which define policies for usage, technical requirements and process for maintenance and support."

Policies make sense, and I'll give some recommendations that Gartner doesn't:

  • Commingled data -- Employees using the same laptop personally and professionally commingle usage and data. IT policies and software tools should protect corporate data from loss or theft. Hosted Web service that keep data behind the corporate firewall is one solution.
  • Security -- A laptop or smartphone used personally and professionally is potentially higher risk for malware infection. What if the employee's teen downloads games or music from Torrent sites? Businesses should enact and enforce policies about laptop usage and add extra security layers to protect the company.
  • Theft or loss -- Companies should insure personal laptops against theft, loss or damage when used for professional purposes, which could be office work or business travel.

Gartner found that some industries are more likely to allow personal devices than others. For example, insurance and telecommunications companies are more likely to embrace personal PCs than governments, manufacturers or wholesalers. Usage varies by country, too, with 30 percent of U.K. and U.S. companies allowing personal PCs compared to a whopping 60 percent in Germany.

I think Gartner's 14-percent figure will prove to be too conservative or non-reflective of employee laptops used a secondary work PC. Netbooks are the reason. The category has exploded this year, something a second-quarter survey may not fully account for.

It's once again question time: Do you use a personal device -- let's say laptop, mobile phone or smartphone -- for work purposes? How is the arrangement working out for you? Comments are open for your responses.

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