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The BYOD Movement and IT Consumerization

In the last year or two, there has been a rapid shift in the way employees are using personal technology in the workplace. Employees are using their personal laptops, smartphones, and tablets for business purposes. Companies that embrace this "bring your own device" (BYOD) trend expect that their business will be more productive and employees more satisfied. A related phenomenon is the "consumerization of IT", where consumer-grade technology is equally (or more) capable and less expensive than the tools available at their workplace. Employees are using "consumer" mobile, cloud, social, and software tools at work and expect the IT staff to support them.

Mobile-devicesIf your workplace is ready to address the BYOD phenomenon, here are some guidelines from an article for Forbes by Dan Woods:

  • Don’t just say no: End users are more productive when they have a vote on the tools they use and how they are supported. Instead of dragging your feet and watching staff use personal devices whether you like it or not, show some leadership and help figure out how to get it right so that the company is protected and the users are happy.
  • Listen to the end users: Create an internal customer advisory group to allow end users to explain what they want and what they don’t. Craft a set of policies and guidelines based on this input.
  • Research and test your approach: Consider a pilot program before full rollout. Discover the range and types of preferred devices as well as the corporate systems, networks, and applications users will need access to. Then modify your plan as needed.
  • Develop a clear set of policies for end users: Everyone should know what the company policies are for personal devices and where to find them. Review your policies periodically as new devices arrive and raise new issues.
  • Plan for a more complex support burden: There will be more questions on setup, remote access, and use of corporate applications, as well as problems unique to the different devices. There will be more complex support scenarios, for example, how to use Microsoft Office applications on non-PC devices. Be sure you have a support plan and trained people in place.
  • Don’t rely on device manufacturers for support: Manufacturers can handle break/fix and warranty support on products, but they won’t know your corporate policies, processes, nor the core office applications your users work with every day.
  • Prepare your IT staff for the task: The IT staff in a consumerized IT environment is a different type of organization, one that must be able to respond to the unexpected. Mixed device environments require specialization and expertise, as well as ongoing training and skill building. Your existing staff may need to be retrained, expanded, or supplemented.

Whether you embrace BYOD or aren't quite ready for it yet, a smart mobile strategy is a must to prepare your business for the future. This article on mobile device management (MDM) by Victor R. Garza for PCWorld offers the following recommendations:

Determine Your Needs: If your business requires nothing more than email, calendaring, and shared contacts, then using Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync makes sense. EAS doesn’t have much overhead, and it works with a mix of devices and platforms. It’s also straightforward to install and requires minimal setup on the mobile device. If you want to manage your devices with greater control or more features, you should consult your cellular carrier, which will have partnered with a mobile device management service to simplify the integration of multiple mobile device platforms even across different carrier networks. These services typically provide a single console that covers billing, inventory management, security, and compliance, and they may even have an integrated app store that permits users to download only approved apps to their mobile devices.

Keeping Tabs on Costs: Before you can manage a collection of cellular devices, you have to know how many devices are involved, and who has what. If you have an inventory control system for laptops, your next step should be to add cellular devices to that system. If you don’t have such a system in place, it’s time to get one. Your cellular carrier can supply basic cost information for each device. To reduce costs, consider setting up a cellular usage plan that multiple cellular devices and departments share. And make sure that whoever is dedicated to purchasing and managing your company's phone bills and rate plans works closely with your in-house technical person to understand your company's needs, usage, and growth pattern.

Policies Are the Best Policy: Successful mobile management starts with establishing reasonable policies. Be sure to consider the following:

  • Have a way to provide new and existing over-the-air cellular device activations or "self-activation." This allows your employees to get back to business quickly when a phone is lost or needs to be upgraded.
  • Devise a policy that covers tablets’ and smartphones’ end of life. When the device goes out of service, its owner needs to dispose of it appropriately, including sanitizing any data that remains on it.
  • Establish a clear policy for apps. Consider specifying the types of work apps can be used on mobile devices and test all new mobile apps before deploying them.
  • Compile a list of all devices that have remote network access to company data, and inventory the approved apps on each device. Don't neglect to stipulate that employees who bring a personal device to connect to the business network must first accept any security restrictions you've established.
  • Publicize your policies. Provide appropriate training, make sure that everyone who has a company mobile device receives a copy of the guidelines, and explicitly state those policies the first time an employee gets a device that you’ll be supporting.

Getting a Handle on Security: Implement a security policy that includes shutting off and remotely wiping all data and applications on a lost or stolen mobile device, data encryption, antivirus protection, and virtual private network (VPN) support, among others. If you allow personal phones and tablets on your network, you should require that certain approved software be loaded on those devices before they can connect, such as a data-wipe app, an app that monitors what other apps may be doing, antivirus software, and a properly configured VPN.

Coming Soon: Management in the Cloud: Eventually, many companies will manage their tablets and phones in the cloud. Though a few cloud solutions are available now, more are on the way. The biggest advantage of cloud-based mobile-management services is that you can get started with them right away. You don’t worry about buying or setting up new IT and mobile device infrastructure, maintaining that infrastructure, or even committing long-term to a specific vendor. Plus, you’ll be able to monitor and manage your mobile infrastructure from anywhere.

Here are some additional articles on BYOD and the consumerization of IT:

How employers can keep their IT systems safe in this BYOD era

Managing Mobile Devices: 10 Lessons Learned, via Forrester

Top 7 truths about consumerization of IT

BYOD: You ain't seen nothing yet

BYOD movement is forcing IT to adapt

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