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.


About John Stepper

Driving adoption of collaboration and social media platforms at Deutsche Bank. (Opinions here are my own.)
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14 Responses to The Value of Collaboration #3: Reducing Blackberry costs & mobile phone bills

  1. elginkevin says:

    Why doesn’t everyone do it?

    Another answer is that when companies pick one horse (like iOS) they’re asking their employees to ride it. Not everybody is interested in riding an iPhone 🙂

    Also, I’m never going to allow the corporation to install software on my personal device that could wipe data, unless it’s only within the corporate container. There’s too much risk to my own data.
    There’s also the issue of this type of software being restricted to phones that are not jailbroken or rooted. More and more people are doing that these days.

    • John Stepper says:

      Thanks, Kevin. All of those are legitimate reasons not to use your personal device for work. And yet I think the 20% adoption target I use in the post is conservative.

      Do you think that’s too high? Could you see 4000 of the 20,000 blackberry users using their personal device instead?

      • elginkevin says:

        I think 20% is a good target, and I think at our firm could be exceeded quite easily. I’m simply continually amazed when a firm says to one set of employees (or customers) we like your phone choice and so we’re going to help you use it better. And to everyone else, nevermind about you. With all the retail banks running ads about iOS apps, I’m wondering if they’ve thought about the message they’re sending to the other (and larger) part of their customer base.

  2. Great post John as always. Noticed you mentioned the word ‘nudge’. Did you read about the UK government’s nudge unit going global?

    “Government is to contract out the services of its “nudge unit” to foreign countries – starting with Australia. The unit – officially as the Behavioural Insights Team – uses psychological techniques to encourage people to change behaviour”.

    • John Stepper says:

      That word choice was an allusion to “Nudge” by Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein. But the story you cited piqued my interest and I’ll check it out. Thanks!

      • Guy says:

        The “nudge unit” in the UK government is based on Thaler & Sunstein’s work, so it is connected. I’m a big fan of using nudging in cases like this where you don’t need everyone to change – where even 20% of people switching would make a big difference.

        I’m a counter-example – I only have a work blackberry because it is much cheaper than any deal I could get on my own (I’m a low volume user). I will claim my work calls if they get above GBP20 in a month, but so far that’s only happened twice in 3 years. But, as you say, it isn’t about changing everyone – just the people for whom the current state makes no sense.

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  4. Gavni says:

    I know a lot of people who have a Blackberry but only use it for emails so their bill would be the line rental … so $100/month sounds like a rather high average. Do you have real numbers to back up your assertions?

    • Gavin says:

      Of course that should say Gavin…………..

    • John Stepper says:

      You’re right that the median bill might be lower. The average, though, is brought up by those (many) who travel an by the extraordinary bills in the long tail of usage. Also, aggregated data for firms (including mobile bills, blackberry service, and device cost) suggest my average is reasonable.

      I’m arranging an industry network and one of the outputs, I hope, will be to tighten up the benefits of each of these collective efficiency programs.

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  6. Armin Vogt says:

    Hi John
    The company i am with adopted that plan beginning this month. Seems that it looks smart to everyone.
    Can you imagine how to create a similar force in reducing mileage of company- owned cars. Would it be better to get rid of all those Company cars which similar to Blackberrys bear a big incentive character. Drives who never pay the gas bill dont care.

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