Three times in the last week I’ve heard/read about employees owning their own computers – rather than having the company provide them. This harkens back to a world where the identity of a craftsperson was partially determined by his/her tools.
First time was a friend who was switching jobs and going through the start-up costs of a new computer. Decision was finally just to turn in the company-provided laptop and use a personal one. My friend is a world-traveling consultant who needs his personal applications on the road. (Even when companies will allow you to put personal applications on a company machine, problems are created when tech support re-images the drive to do updates and fixes. You then get to spend hours reinstalling your personal applications.) Carrying two laptops isn’t an option. Agreement is that the company will support its applications, owner will support his own.
Second time was on the TWIT podcast (about 54 minutes in) where the panel noted that it’s common for people to have preferences about their tools – e.g., Windows versus Mac, and/or particular applications. John C. Dvorak noted that when he was a kid working in factories, the master mechanics owned their own tools. The benefit the TWIT panel ascribed to the firm is that the employer doesn’t have to take on the burden of computer “refreshes” etc., and the employee gets the benefit of controlling their own applications and methods of work. The conversation then hit on the main reason big enterprise isn’t excited about this: security. Quick transition to the variety of technology approaches available for solving the security problem. It can be solved. Issue is creating safe “virtual machines” that connect to the company network.
Third time was an email summary of the week’s tech/work news from a professional group I belong to. They linked to Rasha Madkour’s article “B.Y.O.C. (computer) to work - wave of future?” Citrix (the company highlighted in the article) even provides a $2100 stipend to help employees buy a laptop and support package. Key to note is that Citrix sells one of the tools that handles the virtualization issues (VMware also provides a desktop virtualization product).
Is the third time the charm? Have we circled back to an age where we will again own the means of our production?
Other organizations that seem to be getting on the bandwagon:
- Microsoft & British Petrolium (see Ina Fied’s Beyond Binary CNET blog)
- Arizona State University (see article by Jennifer Mears of Network World)
How does this change our relationship with our employers? Do we then become more valuable the better our technology? Do we become more effective given greater control over our tools? Tool ownership might tip the balance for some regarding employee versus contractor status. (See some checklists here and here.) Note that the desktop isn’t the only tool in the box. Access to organizational resources stored either on company servers or on company portions of the “cloud” may be where the real work gets done.