The Ultimate Multitaskers

They're now juggling support for the iPad, Windows 7 and a host of smartphones -- and bracing for what's next.

The week before the 2010-11 school year began at Indiana University, Sue Workman, associate vice president for communication and support, was preparing for the onslaught -- not just returning students, but their wireless devices, too.

Workman expects an average of two Wi-Fi-enabled devices per student, be they smartphones, tablets, netbooks, laptops, gaming systems, e-readers, MP3 players "and who knows what else," she says. Thanks to a proliferation of devices with built-in Wi-Fi, Workman believes wireless growth will be exponential this year. (Read more about tech gadgets for college students in our back-to-school guide.)

The explosion has caused big changes for IT at Indiana University, and there will be even more in the next year. "We've had to do some realignment to prioritize the technologies we want to support and then make sure we have the right resources allocated to them," she says.

Last year, Workman's group saw an ever-increasing variety of netbooks and smartphones, including many more Apple iPhones, and university-developed iPhone applications. This year, IT is gearing up to support Windows 7 devices, Android applications, Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps and new teaching models for Apple's iPad.

As IT shops across all industries begin allowing a wider variety of consumer technologies, they must determine how their help desks will support all of those devices. Changes include more training (of both IT and business employees), increased staffing, self-help systems, social networking support forums, reorganized support organizations and tiered support strategies.

The challenge is heightened by the speed of innovation at the consumer level, where new products are likely to arrive every six to eight months, compared with every 12 to 18 months for corporate technology, says Dan Quigley, vice president of IT at Aflac Inc.

Another factor is the variation among consumer devices that run the same operating system, says John Kresslein, CIO at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). For example, while some Android smartphones can connect to Exchange through ActiveSync, others require third-party software, while still others don't enforce automated security rules such as password policies, he says.

People's preferences are also changing support approaches. For instance, Workman has extended chat support to round-the-clock availability rather than closing it down at midnight, as that support channel has tripled in use, with phone support on the decline.

Changes Ahead

An onslaught of new issues is forcing IT managers like Workman to reorganize their IT organizations to free up resources to support new computing models. In the coming year, she intends to start using desktop virtualization technology in an effort to manage PCs with fewer resources, and she's forging relationships with IT teams across the university to build a unified community that can leverage each group's expertise and resources.

"We're building relationships so that as technology and the support model changes, we'll have the backing to do that," she says.

At Texas Health Resources, the IT shop has had to change its approach to support, not just because users are continually bringing in the latest consumer devices, but specifically because physicians want to run electronic health records (EHR) systems on those devices. In the past 18 months, Texas Health changed its BlackBerry-only policy and now supports Windows and Android devices and iPhones as well.

"We've seen a huge increase in demand among physicians for iPhone support," says CIO Ed Marx, and that means IT has to figure out how to handle connectivity, privacy, access and security for those devices.

With the advent of EHRs, Marx also expects to begin supporting more iPads and other tablet computers -- including models that run Windows, and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s forthcoming tablet. "There's a huge desire to move away from laptops on carts," he says.

To absorb the extra support requirements, Marx cross-trained support staffers, streamlined service desk processes using ITIL-type methodologies and implemented some automated processes. He also plans to increase staffing by 15% next year. Perhaps most important, when the organization's mobile strategy is being discussed, IT leaders are now involved in the talks to ensure that the department can provide support. "The service desk is becoming more and more strategic," Marx says.

"When you're dealing with people's lives, you have to be highly responsive all times of the day and night," says Marx. Self-help capabilities will also likely increase over the next year, he says, with the password-reset function due for automation before year's end. A SharePoint wiki site enables users to find answers to some of their questions.

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