Company gives computers to its employees -- for keeps

Florida-based Citrix Systems offers a $2,100 stipend.

By Cyrus Farivar
Published October 13, 2008 6:16PM (EDT)

So as a freelancer who works at home/from coffee shops, I've rarely had the luxury of having an employer that provides a computer for me. But on the occasions when I have been assigned a computer, it's near certain that it won't be a Mac. And on the few times when it has been a Mac, there are often restrictions as to what I can and can't install, and so forth. In short, I'm pretty happy that my main computer is for both work and play. I can install whatever software I like; I can take it wherever I like and not worry about it.

As such, I was pleased to hear that at least one major company, Citrix Systems, has recently started a program where it is buying  laptops for its employees. That's right, instead of getting that stodgy old Windows machine, the company will give you a $2,100 stipend to spend on the laptop of your choice -- Windows or Mac. You have to install some anti-virus software, use the VPN when you're offsite, buy a three-year warranty, and off you go.

The company calls it the Bring Your Own Computer program -- BYOC. Except that, actually, it's more like GYOC -- get your own computer.

Where'd the company get the $2,100 figure?

Well, apparently Citrix currently allocates about $2,500 per employee -- that's including the cost of in-house tech support. When the IT department is taken away (and, effectively, people become their own IT department), the cost drops a little bit. Then, in theory, the company can reduce its own costs by simply providing a computer at that price.

I tried calling and e-mailing Citrix today, but no one from the company has gotten back to me yet. (I'll update when someone does.)

Now, according to Citrix CIO Paul Martine, interviewed on CBC's Spark, employees get to keep their laptops, even when they leave the company. That means employees own their laptops. "We're simply giving them an allowance to go out and buy that device, and that's a device that they can use for both home and work using," Martine said in an interview with CBC's Nora Young.

I still need to double-check this with the company, because conceivably an employee could be hired for a short time (say, less than three years) and then could just leave and walk away with the laptop. But that doesn't sound right. I checked in with some industry pundits, including Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT.

He questioned whether the employee would be able to keep the laptop in that case, as he wrote to me in an e-mail:

I doubt the employee would be allowed to keep the computer outright - the tax/accounting headaches would be enormous - but there could be some kind of buyout option for workers who leave.

Still, he continued:

I think it's terrific. The fact is that if an organization already plans to upgrade PCs and notebooks, it makes great good sense to involve employees in the process. Since they're the ones who have to use these tools day in and out, why not let them have a say on the machines and features they prefer? It seems to me that the possible complications of such a program are far outweighed by its potential benefits.

Another analyst, Sara Radicati, of the Radicati Group, disagreed, saying that having employees be their own IT departments would create too much of a burden -- more work, in effect, over the work that they already have.

"I think it's one of those ideas that sound good, but when they try to implement it, it's not going to work," she told me in a phone interview. "We live in a world where there's viruses, and malware. So you have a whole bunch of computers logging on and you don't have any control over and there's all this stuff on computers, and so it might create some nasty effects."

While I get Radicati's point, I still think this GYOC program will make the employees happier, and thus, more productive. What do you guys think?

[via CBC Spark]

Update (10/15): Citrix CIO Paul Martine wrote me an email answering my questions. I've posted a couple of his answers below: "The program is currently being piloted in the Americas and will roll out to our (Europe-Middle East-Africa) and Pacific employees in December 2008. There are about 3,500 laptop users worldwide and we believe 20% of that base will participate in the BYOC program by the end of 2009." "If an employee leaves the company before three years from the date he/she purchased the computer, the employee is responsible for reimbursing Citrix a pro-rated amount based on how long they were in the program."

Cyrus Farivar

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