In an interview last week the interviewee made an off hand comment that her current company is stringent on the hardware and software she’s allowed to use.

It’s a large organization with thousands of employees, which seems to be the norm for that type of company.

And I get it – there are some understandable reasons why a company would want this control:

  • Ability to reign in costs
  • IT oversight
  • Preventing bad, scary things from happening

I wonder, though, if her company has considered reasons why they wouldn’t want to control their employees’ tools so much.

She’s had to resort to PowerPoint for software wireframes. Seriously.

And the saddest part is hearing her talk about how good she’s become at it. She’s found a way to make it work. So you have to admire that ingenuity and adaptability, but then also think about how many better ways she could be spending that time and effort.

She could be getting her wireframes done in a fraction of the time. Or learning the latest & greatest wireframing and design tools to make her an even more productive, educated employee. That’s good for her company, right?

While I get the corporate concerns – to an extent at least – I want to propose an alternative viewpoint.

The Cost Savings Don’t Matter

(Side note – I’m talking about personal productivity software that costs a couple hundred bucks or less. Big ticket that cost $10k are different.)

Let’s cut to the chase.

The additional marginal cost of personal software is meaningless.

Let’s say you pay your employee $40k/yr. With employer loaded costs (taxes, benefits, overhead, etc) let’s conservatively estimate the true cost to the employer to be 50% more, so $60k/yr. Finally, assuming a standard work year of 2,000 hours this employee’s loaded cost is $30/hr.

Going back to our interviewee, will a $79 Balsamiq license that enables her to create better, faster wireframes save 3 hours over the course of the year? Or considering the hourly perspective, this increases her loaded cost from $30.00/hr to $30.04/hr. Is a cost of 4 cents/hr worth the hassle?

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What if she’s more senior and makes $100k/yr? What if we took into account the cost to have a software request approval process?

Finally, here’s this admission: letting your employees get their own software will go wrong sometimes.

Yes, someone will buy software and then never use. Ever. People will buy a bunch of individual licenses instead of coordinating on a cheaper group license. And you’ll have a few bad apples who will abuse the system. But who cares? You certainly shouldn’t.

In the grand scheme of running your business these costs are negligible. Then when you account for the increased productivity and morale boost you get by treating your employees like responsible adults who can make these decisions on their own, you’re likely saving your company money.

The Sky Won’t Come Crashing Down on IT

There’s a big concern from IT with personal productivity software in the workplace. If anyone can go off and use whatever software they want, it’s pretty likely bad things are going to happen.

Or at least that’s the impression many IT groups try to give off. Data leaks, security breaches, a myriad of unintegrated systems, lack of redundancy or backups, cloud data compromises…

I’m not sure that this isn’t just fear mongering though. After all, even with tight controls in place problems still happen. Just ask the VA,, TJX, Fideltiy, Pfizer, AOL or Ameritrade.

Let’s also consider a lesson from black market economies. Like many employees you’re overworked, have tight deadlines and deal with unrealistic demands from your bosses. The last thing you want is an 8 week approval and reimbursement process for a $10/month piece of software that’ll help you get more done. Facing this you’ll just go around the system, won’t you?

If you put roadblocks in the path of an employee’s productivity they’ll start using their own phones, computers and networks. Already over a third of employees are going behind IT’s back.

Employees are finding their own applications, [and] it tells us that IT is not keeping up providing the tools that employees need to do their job.

Further, Forrester found that over 53% of employees are using their own devices for work.

[This is] a five percent increase from [2012 to 2013]. That might not seem like much, but it’s really just the beginning.

Avoid the Nanny State

Forget about any true cost savings from controlling personal productivity software in the workplace.

And don’t worry the cloud may be dangerous than an in-house firewall (especially when, according to Accenture, the least secure place for data is taxis, where employees simply forget their laptops and phones).

Finally, remember that even if you do try to put controls in place employees will just go around them.

So instead of creating a nanny state out of your company’s IT department here are three things you can do:

  1. Develop a great BYOD and BYOApp policy with a secure MDM infrastructure
  2. Hire the right people who won’t abuse open policies or make dumb mistakes
  3. Start treating your employees like responsible adults

In turn you’ll find your employees will respect the company more, be more productive and increase morale for everyone.