How Not to Save Money: Kraft Wants Its Workers to Buy Their Own PCs

Last Updated May 11, 2010 2:12 PM EDT

According to a press release from Kraft Foods (KFT), someone in management had a bright idea of how to save money: let employees pay for their own computers. I'm not sure what the executives had in their cups at coffee break, but I hope it included some heavy pain killers. This ides is so fraught with technical, operational, security, and legal risks that something bad is bound to happen:
Kraft Foods is announcing its innovative Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) program, which allows employees to purchase and use their computer of choice at work. The program benefits both the company -- lower costs -- and employees -- more flexibility."Our Information Systems team is focused on providing the best work experience to all employees," said Mark Dajani, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer. "We want employees to be productive and comfortable with the tools they use every day to get their job done. So, if they prefer one laptop over the other, why not give them the freedom to customize their work experience?" Kraft Foods will provide a stipend for the purchase of a computer, Microsoft Office and the required security software.
Let's go through all the problems of this masterful decision:
  • Companies like to monitor employees' computers. They generally can because the corporation owns the machines. When the employees own the machines? You're in a legal swamp that will probably require signed agreements by everyone in the program and even then there's a chance the employer might not be covered for monitoring. What happens if someone at home also uses the computer?
  • If Kraft pays a stipend for the machine, who really owns it? I could see arguments going either way.
  • If employees purchase as consumers, rather than through Kraft's purchasing department, there is no leverage over vendors and prices will be higher than they otherwise would. Did someone say this was about saving money?
  • The real cost of computers is not the initial purchase, but support. Now you've just increased the mix of computers, hardware configurations, mixes of software, and other variables. Who's going to install all the specific software mix the company requires, going from one machine to the next rather than using a hard drive with everything pre-installed? Expect support costs to significantly increase.
  • Will these machines be laptops that also go home? Who's going to keep viruses, spyware, and other problems from getting on them and, from there, onto corporate networks? What happens when someone loses the computer and, on it, sensitive information?
This move is so insane on so many levels that it is breathtaking in the potential for being a classic case study of how not to run an IT department.

Monitor image: user jazza, site standard license.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.