Win the argument for employee cell phones in your organization

Scott Lowe says that companies' mobile communications needs may vary, but some positions require 24/7 access.

Recently, I went through an exercise in reviewing all the cell phone contracts for an organization in an attempt to reduce the overall cost of service. As a part of that exercise, the following steps were taken:

  • All of the company's cell phones were moved to newly established service plans. AT&T had recently created the new plans, and they were much less expensive and simpler to manage than existing plans.
  • Each line was reviewed to justify a business need. These results were shared with the executive team, but there was disagreement about what should constitute a business need. The discussion revolved around why some cell phone toting users couldn't be outfitted with two-way radios instead.

So, what's the right answer? Obviously, it really depends on the organization's needs, but there also should be some semblance of reality in these kinds of discussions.

For example, let's take a look at the idea of simply using two-way radios to communicate with employees -- say, maintenance or IT personnel. In a single campus environment where employees only require communication during the workday and they never leave the site, two-way radios might be a perfect solution. However, if there's a need for multiple radio channels or if employees communicate with people outside the organization -- with vendors, for example -- while they're working outside their offices, a radio is clearly an insufficient tool.

Further, two-way radios will fall short when it comes time to discuss after-hours support, unless the support personnel lives within range of the other radios/radio tower, and they are not allowed to travel outside this range. In these cases, cell phones are clearly the better choice.

Cell phones have long been a challenge, and they were even more challenging when the IRS considered them as listed property. That said, there are still certain positions in an organization that simply require 24/7 access. Here are some examples:

  • IT: Although not all IT staff require cell phones or smartphones, if there's an expectation for after-hours support, some kind of communication needs to be provided, even if it's just an on-call phone used in a rotation.
  • Plant/facilities: These employees also carry on-call responsibilities, so supplying them with the tools necessary for their jobs is something the organization needs to do.
  • Marketing: These days, with social media available to customers 24/7, an organization might want to classify these folks as critical when it comes to communication with the world and, as such, should provide the hardware and service to support this need.
  • Sales: Customer outreach is critical, because sales is a cost of doing business. Traveling sales people need to remain in constant contact with both the office and customers. In fact, for some sales people, a company might want to consider adding a tethered data plan option to the smartphone plan to make it easier for sales people to connect to the electronic resources that they need.

What do all of these examples have in common? There's an identifiable need for portable communications for each of these categories. So, rather than going down a list of people in an organization, consider this: Get a full list of positions -- without names -- and then identify which positions have an absolute need for mobile communications. For those identified positions, modify the job description to include mobile communications as a job requirement. Then, either provide the person occupying that position with a phone or provide a stipend for them to use their personal device for work purposes.

Again, mobile communications will vary from company to company, but establish your baseline standards and then codify them in job descriptions.

By Scott Lowe

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...