Federal and state government agencies have been launching programs allowing their employees to use their personal mobile devices at work to access data and business applications with an eye toward saving money. But many are often unaware of hidden costs associated with BYOD programs.

While these programs can provide all of advantages of mobility, unless managed carefully, they will not deliver their primary selling point: reduced costs.

Contrary to what government or private organizations might expect, they will end up spending more money on these programs unless they are closely managed, explained Andrew Borg, research director of the Aberdeen Group’s Enterprise Communications Mobility Center of Excellence.

If BYOD programs are not kept on a short leash, they can in fact be very expensive, up to 30% more than what an agency or company might spend on a non-BYOD mobile program, he said.

Learn from your peers in private industry and the DOD.”

Based on data collected from private sector firms in 45 countries since 2008, the IT industry research and consulting firm concluded that while there are very good business reasons for adopting BYOD policies, saving money may not be one of them.

One of the hidden costs of BYOD programs is telecom expense aggregation. When an organization has a single telecom provider, it can take advantage of volume discounts. But when employees provide their own devices, from a variety of telecom carriers, their organizations lose the ability to gain volume discounts, Borg said.

How agencies track and compensate employees for expenses accrued through their personal devices can be affected by BYOD policies. Costs can get out of hand if user expenses are not closely monitored, Borg said. When organizations loose visibility into their billing and device management policies, they lose track of costs.

“You’ve gone from a highly tracked, concentrated volume discount model to one that is not only no longer volume discounted. Is it even trackable?” he said.

Organizations can save money and reduce costs through well run BYOD programs, “but it’s not in fact less money,” Borg warned. Savings can be translated into lower costs per employee, “but if you’re not careful, it won’t happen either,” he said.

Borg said agencies can take several steps to improve the economies of going mobile:

One is to take advantage of commercially available solutions that address overerall agency needs for governance, compliance and security, not simply mobile device usage.

Another is to look at the mobile ecosystem for its entire lifecycle as opposed to simply managing the devices, including the costs associated with procurement, support, security, performance and optimization and credentialing of handhelds, he said.

Federal agencies also need to avoid balkanization: having different BYOD programs for each department. This can create chaos and eliminate any advantages provided by economies of scale. Cost savings require a consistent policy and strategy and the ability to enforce them.

The best ways to achieve economies of scale are through a single vendor or consistent mobile strategies, he said. “You don’t want to have an agency with five different solutions for five different departments. There is going to be no way to look across the entire agency to see what’s working and what’s not. It will be a nightmare,” Borg explained.

Although he can see the logic behind agencies wanting to have mobile policies at the component or functional level, Borg recommends against it, recommending that policy should be set from the top down. Within the agency, it should have the ownership and direction of the head of IT. But as he has seen in the private sector, those programs that worked best had the support of top management.

While the drivers are different, public and private organizations can get the same savings from following a solid mobile device plan. For federal agencies, Borg recommends following the Defense Department’s BYOD practices: high level visibility of coherent and consistent strategy across the organization, consolidated providers, a limited list of approved platforms, devices, and software versions; a well-established policy that is enforceable. This should apply to all agencies.

“It’s not even go slow, it’s go right. Learn from your peers in private industry and the DOD,” he said.