The Value of Collaboration #3: Reducing Blackberry costs & mobile phone bills

Remember about 10 years ago when your firm would reimburse you for your Internet connection? That’s over now. We reached a tipping point where so many of us wanted a connection anyway that firms didn’t need to pay for it any longer. Now, a similar shift is underway with mobile phones at work.

By using social tools and practices to accelerate that shift - and to trim mobile bills for corporate mobiles that remain - large firms can save more than $7 million.

The problem

The problem is both the number of phones and the way we use them.

A large firm can have 20,000+ Blackberry devices and 20,000+ monthly mobile bills in addition to the cost of licensing and operating the Blackberry service. Yet, in many countries (US, UK, Germany, Brazil, Russia to name a few.), we already have more mobile phones than people  - more than 6 billion mobile phones globally. Does your firm really need to pay for you to have another one?

Worse, those 20,000 phone bills the firm pays every month, particularly in a global firm, are inevitably higher that what you’d pay at home. Roaming charges and international rates routinely inflate mobile bills simply because people aren’t as careful as they are with their own phone and their own money.

The solution

The main reason everyone originally got a Blackberry in the first place was mobile access to email. Now, though, technologies like Good and MobileIron are making it increasingly common for people to access their corporate email and calendar (and even documents and the intranet) via their personal iPhones, iPads, and other devices.

Unlike Internet access, it won’t be as simple as a change in policy (“In 2013, the firm will no longer pay mobile phone bills.”). Solutions involving personal devices are sometimes intrusive requiring, for example, that individuals let the firm install corporate software on their device, monitor usage at certain times, and wipe all the data on it. And you can’t force everyone to accept that.

That’s why you’ll need other methods to change behaviors.

As we saw in a previous solution aimed at reducing printing across the firm, applying the “Dragonfly Framework” can help raise awareness and nudge people to make different choices. For example:

Pick a clear goal: “Reduce Blackberries by 20% and mobile bills by 10%.”

Make people care about it: “We can save over $7 million! Donating 5% of that can bring clean drinking water to 14,000 people!”

Make it easy for them to change: “The Geniuses will be in the lobby this week to help you set up your iPhone or iPad.”

Give them feedback and stories to keep changing: “Here’s a story from Jane who said iPad access to work “changed her life.” And a moving video taken by our Mumbai office about a nearby village using their new well for the first time.”

You’ll need this kind of campaign to quickly drive meaningful adoption and realize the potential savings.

What’s it worth?

For years I’ve had a Blackberry and an iPhone. And yes, I’ve had the occasional $300+ bill when I travelled because I didn’t make the effort to use local numbers or to use Skype to call home.

Now, though, I have access via my iPad and iPhone and I’m tired of carrying multiple devices. So I gave up my Blackberry, eliminated the extra phone bill, and realized  annual savings to the firm of at least $1500.

Across the firm, even conservative estimates of  the costs get quite large:

20,000 phone bills * $100/month * 12 months = $24 million

20,000 devices * $300 upgraded every 2 years = $3 million

Reducing the number of devices by just 20% yields a savings of $5.4 million. (I don’t count a reduction in the Blackberry service itself as we assume, conservatively, that’s those savings are offset by other mobile infrastructure.)

Now you’re left with 16,000 mobile bills every month:

16,000 * $100/month * 12 months = $19.2 million 

Reducing those bills by 10% (through awareness of the costs, cheaper alternatives, and the benefits) yields another $1.9 million for a total savings of $7.3 million.

Why doesn’t everyone do it?

Re-examining mobile access to the firm is a relatively new source of savings, involving trade-offs for both the firm and the employees. In that face of newness and complexity, change will be slow. People will just stick with what they have and what they know.

But there are more than 7 million reasons to use social tools and practices to accelerate the change.

It’s another mundane example, far from the revolutionary rhetoric about overthrowing management. But it underscores how everywhere you look, everywhere your firms spends money, you can augment policy with greater awareness and behavioral change. You can nudge people to do the right thing both for the firm and for themselves.