Bring Your Own Computer: Company Program Pays Workers to Pick Personal Computer for Work Use

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In a nod to how finicky people have become about the gadgets they use, software company Citrix Systems Inc. is rolling out a new program for its workers: BYOC — Bring Your Own Computer.

Employees get a $2,100 stipend to buy a laptop and three-year service plan. In exchange for getting a computer with the specs they want — whether it's a wide screen, a light weight or ultra-fast processing — the workers essentially take on the company's technology purchasing and maintenance responsibilities. The 200 staffers who have signed up since the pilot program began this month say it's a deal they're happy to take.

Carolyn VanVurst, a Citrix information technology specialist, said she loved the idea of having a single laptop for both personal and business use, since she's on the computer so much.

"It was easier for me to have my life on one device instead of separated," she said.

It appears Citrix is the first large company to take such a leap, at least publicly. Steve Kleynhans, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said other technology companies have started similar pilot programs but are doing so under the radar.

The idea presents technical challenges — such as making sure employees can access the programs they need for their jobs — as well as corporate policy questions, including how sensitive information is protected on the employees' computers.

"There's a lot of groundwork that needs to be done," Kleynhans said.

For Citrix, the program is a way of promoting its "virtualization" technology, which among other things lets companies run software programs they need — like SAP for time sheets and Microsoft Exchange for e-mail — in a central data center. Employees access the applications by logging in remotely, but the programs and potentially confidential information in them are never downloaded to the workers' own laptops.

Citrix's chief information officer, Paul Martine, said the company's leaders asked themselves: "Our technology does this — why aren't we doing this?"

"I'm either crazy," Martine added, "or this is going to be the trend of the future."

Whether other companies follow the bring-your-own-computer route is more likely to depend on whether it saves them any money. Citrix said it generally had been spending $2,500 to $2,600 to buy and manage a PC for each employee — a figure that analysts said likely is similar at other companies — so it comes out ahead with the $2,100 stipend.

Pund-IT analyst Charles King called it a "very forward-looking strategy."

"People tend to become very personally attached to their technology," King said. "Having the freedom to buy the kind of computer you want would be seen as a perk, and a happy employee is usually a productive one."

However, Sara Radicati, an analyst whose Radicati Group tracks business computing use, said she doesn't see what problem the Citrix program fixes, and she's unsure how useful it will be.

"We live in a complex world, so it is easier to manage and know where your data is and what is being done with company-sensitive information if you have a little more control," Radicati said.

Tim Bajarin, head of technology consulting group Creative Strategies, added that the BYOC plan is likely easier for a software company like Citrix. "They are a virtualization company so they understand how to make this work successfully," Bajarin said. "For a traditional IT shop ... this is very difficult to do."

There are some restrictions. Citrix is requiring that employees use either Windows or Mac operating systems, have antivirus software and buy a three-year, full-service warranty so that tech support from the manufacturer can be on hand within 24 hours and supply a loaner if needed.

The pilot period is expected to last until the end of the year. Martine will be looking to see whether the program is as self-service as hoped. He'll also be keeping an eye on whether staffers are leaving the company shortly after receiving the laptop stipend. If that happens, Citrix may prorate the stipend amount, as they do with relocation expenses in similar situations.

Lettie Carrisales, an information technology manager at Citrix participating in the pilot, said she's glad the company's computing purchases don't have to be "one-size-fits-all anymore." For example, she said, an engineer needs a faster, more robust machine than someone with more clerical duties. Carrisales is considering getting a Mac because it can run both its own operating system and Windows, and her customers use both.

Employees like VanVurst, who was enticed by having the same computer for office and personal use, might find that to be a trap, said Citrix software engineer Mark Beyer. People can find themselves doing more work from home, or more personal tasks while at work, he said.

"You've just got to monitor it," Beyer said. "It's still your decision whether to turn off the screen and play with your dog."