Giving staff free rein to choose their own laptops and mobile phones would be a recipe for disaster, leading to higher costs, potential security risks and helpdesks swamped with calls from users unable to fix their own hardware, IT chiefs believe.
Last week a silicon.com columnist suggested that CIOs should give workers more freedom to choose their own hardware. By enabling tech-savvy users to opt out of corporate procurement and swear off the helpdesk, such a strategy could mean more sophisticated users get the hardware they need to be more efficient in their job without increasing the burden on the IT department, the column argued.
But such an idea has met with a cool response from silicon.com's CIO Jury: when asked "should staff be allowed to choose and buy their own PCs and mobile phones for use at work?" the CIO Jury voted no by a margin of eight to four.
Graham Yellowley, technology lead equities at LCH.Clearnet, said such an approach would not work unless workers could only choose from a small range of mobile phones and laptops from a single supplier.
"The best approach is an employee purchase programme which allows employees to benefit from discounts via the company but with the device being used only for personal use. Otherwise the effort and cost involved in incorporating these devices into a corporate environment is excessive and not warranted," he added.
Yellowley's comments were echoed by Andrew Wayland, CIO at Michael Page International.
"Staff will have a whole set of priorities in selecting equipment that differ to a business-wide commercial decision.
"However, happy staff are productive staff, so giving them some choice in the matter within defined parameters is potentially an easier option which buys some freedom and buys goodwill.
"The defined parameters could be agreed together taking into account the commercial elements and staff issues. A choice of laptop from lightweight to power user, or a choice of mobile phone, can go some way to addressing this," he said.
Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director at Hachette Filipacchi, is already seeing more workers keen to use non-standard mobiles.
"With mobiles, this is a hot issue - we have BlackBerrys as standard, but some staff want to use iPhones, others all manner of different smartphones - and they all have to be hooked up to the company email and supported. And the costs [of running these diverse devices] tend to disappear into people's expenses, so it's difficult to see if running them is economical - but every experience would suggest that a personal mobile contract, with profit built-in to cover the cost of new kit come contract renewal time, will not be as economical as a corporate deal gaining economies of scale."
With a vast array of business systems still having limited web browser support, with many of those still insisting on Internet Explorer - "no good for the man with the brand new MacBook Air, unless he's running it as a PC in disguise!" he said.
While the JM Group's IT director Alan Bawden believes that giving employees more freedom around choosing their phones would be "would be relatively easy to implement and support" provided certain guidelines are followed, he believes a similar strategy would be more problematic when it comes to PCs...
Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.