BYOD: New animal, new taming techniques

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aC/ BYOD won't save you money'

aC/ Complete a device profiling before you come up with BYOD policies"

aC/ Mobile apps developers must be familiar with consumer app trends

BYOD is nothing new, but now it's morphed into a different animal. When the Blackberry and similar devices made their initial appearance in enterprises, employee access to e-mails and corporate data was a top-down initiative.

Today, employees from different ranks request access to data and applications via their own devices. And sometimes those requests seem more like demands.

The devices have also evolved -- smartphones and tablets boast increasingly rich functionalities compared to laptops a few years ago.

Employees have become tech-savvy -- many, especially the younger ones, already access e-mails and other communication channels via their mobile devices without IT support.

Yet many local firms still don't have full-fledged BYOD programs, according to William Tam, technical manager, Asia Pacific and Middle East, Websense. "Sectors like banking and finance are slow adopters," said Tam. "But some companies already have BYOD programs for sales staff, and more firms are showing interest in implementing such programs for their mobile workers."

Midland Realty's BYOD rollout

Property agency Midland Realty is one local organization with a phase-by-phase BYOD plan. According to CTO Francis Fung, the firm had various pilot schemes in the past. "Three years ago we had a Blackberry pilot for more than 10 non-sales executives, but they were lukewarm about it," said Fung. "They become excited after we allowed them to pick their own devices and service plans."

The firm then expanded its BYOD trial to both sales agents and non-sales executives. Like many other organizations, Midland started its BYOD program with e-mail access because it's the simplest to support, said Fung.

The toughest challenge comes from the various smartphone models, he noted. "iOS devices are much easier [to support] because there are only a few models," said Fung. "But there are many Android devices with different screen resolutions and sizes. We spend much time testing our apps on Android and other devices by vendors including Samsung, HTC, and Nokia."

According to Fung, more than 60% of Midland employees use iPhones while the rest of the workers have Android devices--the two OSs the company supports in its BYOD program. While the company no longer supports Blackberry, it's now testing different in-house built mobile apps on the Windows Mobile platform, he said.

Apps to be launched

Most of Midland's apps are requested by employees who want to enjoy the same convenience that consumer apps offer, said Fung. "Our IM (instant messaging) application Midland Messenger is an example," he said. "Many of our employees use WhatsApp on their phones and expect the company to come up with a similar app to support their communications."

But users aren't content to just send messages. "At this stage," said the Midland CTO, "our IM app allows staffers to search and add their colleagues, broadcast messages to groups or a department, and view which properties agents are trying to sell on the clients' behalf."

The firm has tested Midland Messenger for a month and plans a formal launch in May, but continues to receive new function suggestions from users. "For instance, we might add functions that allow workers to add property pictures, videos, and microblogs to the app," said Fung.

In addition, the property player is testing another app they developed in-house: the Dropbox-like "e-leaflet" for its BYOD program. According to Fung, planned storage size is about 1-2 GB per user. At present, the firm is studying requirements for a sales force automation app to be available on the Web as well as iOS and Android tablets.

Cisco: Efficient workers need less support

At Cisco, BYOD -- rolled out two years ago -- was a natural step given the fast growth of mobile devices on the firm's network. According to Garrick Ng, head of Systems Engineering at Cisco Hong Kong, the firm had 50,538 mobile devices on its network by December 2011, up 52% year-on-year and more than 63,000 employees worldwide at Cisco by January 2012. "Sooner or later the number of mobile devices on our network will be more than our headcount," he said.

Besides wanting to attract younger talent who often prefer a lower-paying job that allows flexibility in device-choice, social media access, and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility, according to the 2011 Cisco Connected World Technology Report, productivity and easier support are key reasons behind the firm's BYOD adoption.

"BYOD is unique. You don't have to spend money on devices but you see positive results -- more productive employees who need less support," Ng noted. "Our internal survey suggests that each worker saves 30 minutes daily with BYOD in place. The reason is obvious -- people use devices they are familiar with."

"When people do have problems [with consumer devices at work], they talk to their colleagues, friends or online support communities," he added, "because these resources provide speedier help than IT shops."

It's also human nature to take good care of a device if you own it, Tam from Websense noted. "From my experience, devices owned by workers seldom break and are in better condition compared with devices provided by an employer," he said.

The cost reduction myth

Despite the zero-cost in device procurement and less device support in some cases, there are other costs involved in BYOD rollout, analysts warned.

Gartner research director Song Chuang said that with BYOD, costs are 'moved around' instead of disappearing. According to a Gartner report, as the capital expense of a device is usually around 20% of its total cost of ownership, the small potential savings are often offset by other expenses. "The technical complexity associated with BYOD programs requires additional skills to support extra platforms, more apps, and tightened security," said Chuang.

Though enhanced productivity is often touted as BYOD's biggest benefit, Ovum (http://www.ovum.com) analyst Richard Absalom argues this is hard to gauge. BYOD is part of a bigger picture when it comes to performance or productivity gains, so it takes a few years of observation before you can make a conclusion, said Absalom.

Today's BYOD also means a move from supporting laptops and Blackberry phones to new devices, he added. "Some firms might not have the required expertise and thus ending up spending extra money in training, recruiting, and buying third-party tools," said the Ovum analyst.

More costs and behind-the-scenes efforts

In addition, BYOD program success requires more than device-support. Both Fung and Ng admitted that smooth program operation takes an enormous amount of effort across departments and within IT shops.

While less than 10% of Midland's workers have no experience of using smartphones in Midland Realty, Fung's team continues to control the app installation work. "There are about 5,000 employees in Midland," said Fung. "We are practical enough to know not all of them are able or want to do app installation by themselves."

According to Fung, there are additional costs associated with infrastructure. In each of the Midland's branch, there is now extra bandwidth for Internet connection because of higher number of mobile devices in use, he said. "But we will also use the extra bandwidth for other purposes in the future such as VoIP and fax over IP, so in the longer term BYOD won't result in higher infrastructure cost."

To reduce mobile app costs such as license fees, Midland either develops mobile apps in-house or outsources development to service providers.

Asked if the firm hires extra app-development talent to cope with the increased workload for its 40-strong IT team, Fung said it's hard to hire the right people. "Turnover rate for app development pros is high," he said. "And they are costly--a pro with two to three years of experience on average asks for HK$20-30,000 a month," Fung noted.

Decisions on app types

When it comes to apps, Cisco's Ng advised companies to think thoroughly about the types of apps--native-to-device, browser-based, and virtual apps--they want to build and support. "In most cases, companies have a mix of these, depending on the complexity of functionalities needed and how sensitive their data is," he said.

Native apps are the most user-friendly but IT will need to do extra development work for the different OSs, he pointed out. Despite less flexibility offered to users, browser-based apps are highly portable and pose less security risks because data reside in the backend infrastructure rather than on the devices, said Ng.

Virtual apps--with both apps and data located inside a datacenter--are the easiest to support, but offers the least flexibility among the three types of apps, he said.

Coming up with policies

Proper policies are also key to the program success. "BYOD isn't just about data control," said Ng. "IT teams need to work with HR, legal, and compliance pros on policies and ensure employees understand that they must give up some control over their personal devices in exchange for access to corporate e-mails and other data.

According to Gartner, the extent to which workers and companies might agree on the compromise will vary, but it's crucial to ensure that end-users fully understand the following:

aC/ They are solely responsible for backing up their personal content on the device.

aC/ Subject to local laws, they might not be able to sue if the company wipes their devices for cause or by mistake.

aC/ They must be aware of any limitations in the use of their devices as a result of company policies. For instance, the company might monitor their devices and/or forbid the installation of certain software programs on the devices.

aC/ They must accept that limitations placed on their devices could affect user experience, and might include the filtering of business data.

aC/ They might be required to hand over their devices in cases of civil litigation.

Guarding your data

Security is a major concern in BYOD rollout. Midland's Fung said employees needs to log in to corporate mobile apps with a user name, a passcode, plus a one-time password sent via the firm's IM tool. "We built this one-time password tool by ourselves to minimize data theft risk," he said. "Unless an employee shows the data on his/her device to another person after logging in, the chance of leaking data to an outsider is slim."

Fung added that the firm will also limit data access when rolling out the sales force automation app. "A sales agent will be able to view his/her own data without access to corporate data from this mobile app," he said.

Cisco's Ng suggested companies gather real-time 'contextual' information from networks, users, and devices that allow them to make proactive governance decisions by tying identity to various network elements including access switches, WLAN controllers, VPN gateways, and datacenter switches.

For instance, when contextual information indicates that a user belongs to a certain unit, the network allows him/her to access data needed for work but bans access to confidential data and data from other units.

Making your BYOD more successful

Despite reports of easier support by some firms, devices will continue to proliferate and may tax support resources.

To make support for multiple devices and OSs easier, Gartner's Chuang suggested companies consider a tiered framework and approach. He said devices fall into three categories in terms of support.

The first category is platform-level devices that are allowed to access the highest number of apps plus more types of corporate data and thus receive the most support. "iOS and Blackberry devices (http://www.blackberry.com) might belong to this category as they are more mature," said Chuang. "Companies should also recommend employees to pick these devices."

The second category is appliance-level devices, according to Chuang. "Users of these devices are allowed to access fewer apps such as e-mail and calendars," he said.

The last category is concierge-level devices--machines that run nascent OSs and might not be used by many employees. "IT must give some level of support to these devices and at the same time track closely their support costs," said Chuang. "Who knows? These devices might be popular in the future. One example is the iPad--despite its prevalent use today, it was a concierge-level device a few years ago and people were skeptical."

Cisco's Ng believes thorough preparation contributes to BYOD program-efficiency. "Before you come up with BYOD policies, you need to do device profiling," he said. "By knowing what devices your employees are using, you will have an easier time planning and building your apps and apps usage policies."

Midland's Fung ensures that his team keeps up with consumer application trends.

"Technical skills are important, but we must also know, for instance, what the Facebook app for the iPad is like before we can build apps that other employees will find familiar and want to use," he said.

This story, "BYOD: New animal, new taming techniques" was originally published by Computerworld Hong Kong.

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