Q&A on BYOD: Answers for IT departments

TechRepublic editor in chief Jason Hiner and ZDNet editor in chief Larry Dignan respond to questions about the impact of BYOD on IT.

In the latest episode of The IT Factor on Thursday, ZDNet editor in chief Larry Dignan and I discussed "BYOD: The New Mobile Reality." When we got to the end of the webcast we weren't able to answer all of the audience questions on air so we decided to follow up by posting the questions and answers in a blog post. So, here goes:

1. How does the enterprise ensure adequate security over personal devices?

Jason: "This is the big issue that still needs to be solved. Too much company data is currently being stored on mobile devices and personal laptops.This includes company emails and documents. Eventually, this information is going to have to remain on servers and simply be accessed seamlessly from mobile devices. The solutions still need to mature a bit to make this happen."

2. With BYOD how would you handle hardware upgrades when it pertains to a piece of software that has specific requirements?

Larry: "Hardware upgrades could be an issue depending on the requirements, but I only see that being an issue for security and compliance. In my experience, the gear you have at home is often better than what the company hands out in terms of hardware specs."

3. Who's responsible for service/support/maintenance if a large enterprise is using a broad range of technologies and applications (that may not be 'enterprise standard')?

Jason: "IT can't be expected to support hardware or software that they haven't deployed or vetted. This is where IT takes on more of an advisory role by helping point people in the right direction when they run into problems. IT, of course, retains responsibility for making sure the company's internal apps work like clockwork on the most popular devices."

4. Is the data in the device more important than the device itself especially with BYOD? Should a company / institution / agency be more concerned with what data the employee is moving to their personal device vs. the device itself?

Larry: "Ultimately I think data protection is everything for the enterprise and that means gating it and delivering it virtually so it can't be put on a device. The concept is that the employee can access the data through a tunnel, but can't walk away with it."

5. What is the best mobile management software to use to manage these devices that will insure security and control what apps are installed? What do you know about Maas360 for managing mobile devices?

Jason: "For device management, the most trusted solutions are BlackBerry BES (which now supports other devices beyond BlackBerries), Good Technology, and Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. We haven't heard much about Maas360, but that doesn't mean it's not a viable solution."

6. Does it really make sense to give people $700 a year for new gear with no real guidelines?

Larry: "I think there would be some sort of guidelines, but as I noted before. The hardware (and often software) you have at home is more powerful and easier to use than the work systems. A generic outline for a guideline would be amount of memory, ability to run virtualization software easily and items like that. "

7. What is a "virtual desktop"?

Jason: "This is where your Windows desktop at work is run from a server. You can log into it from any computer by connecting to that server and then a full image of your work desktop is presented on your screen and it looks as if you're working on that computer even though the actually computer is miles away in the data center. All you're seeing is images of that computer being constantly refreshed. This lets you work on your work computer from anywhere with a good Internet connection while keeping all of the company's data secured in the server room."

8. If things get virtualized. Instead of providing allowances would there not be a market for providing thin clients and trying to allow cloud solutions on the go?

Jason: Yes, this is the end game for desktop virtualization. You can access your company workspace from any computer or even a mobile device, in many cases. And when you sit down at a desk at a company office then you simply access it with a thin client and a traditional monitor, mouse, and keyboard.

9. "Smartphones should be personal, it's not about cost, it's only about protecting the data" - is that true? What about usage costs & licensing implications? Surely this cannot be ignored by any business? Are there any solutions?

Larry: "These things can't be ignored—-especially licensing. But part of the ROI on the BYOD argument is that you wouldn't pay for usage costs. A lot of the voice and data plans are being offloaded to the worker/consumer who uses up his minutes. Perhaps if there's some extreme case the company picks up the tab. But if you work from home it's not like the company pays for your broadband. Licensing costs may be trickier, but if that's delivered through a thin client or virtualized environment the access is centralized."

10. If data is the kicker then is MAM ore important than MDM? Or, are they still inter-related?

Jason: "Yes, Mobile Application Management (MAM) will ultimately be just as important as Mobile Data Management (MDM) because the apps are where a lot of people are going to be interfacing with corporate data and they will need to implement best practices for security and compliance while also making the process seamless (and virtually invisible) for users."

11. But is it smart from a business standpoint to enable overwork? People need time to get away from work too. Do you pay overtime for all of the "work" done away from the office?

Larry: "Work life balance is important. However, most execs toting around devices and working keep doing it. It goes with the territory. Overtime would be nice, but frankly that's for a limited subset of people. Things are blurring together so much I'm not sure you could even track the difference between work and life. Sad in some cases, but true. "

12. How about AbsoluteSafe for data security and management? Not sure I follow how VDI plays into BYOD?

Jason: "I don't know AbsoluteSafe very well, but it is a Mobile Data Management (MDM) solution for iOS and it is well-rated by users. VDI, or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, plays into BYOD because it allows you to run your company workspace from any device, but especially your personal laptop, without storing any of the company's data on your personal machine. Your virtual desktop — a Windows workspace with all your company apps and data — remains in the server room while it looks and feels like it's running on your local machine."

13. How would an IT support role change in a BYOD office? They would need to support multiple devices multiple platforms etc. Would an ROI be almost next to null since there would be more training and specialization in all areas?

Jason: "IT will support far fewer devices — only the ones owned and absolutely needed by the company. This will likely be a lot of thin clients and a few specific computers and mobile devices that the company deploys. IT will focus on supporting the company applications and serving in an advisory role to help point people in the right direction if they're having problems with their own equipment. In cases were personal devices fail and need to be repaired, many IT departments will have short-term loaners on hand so that people can keep working."

14. How would the ROI look in an environment such as educational institutions that don't need to worry much about data security?

Larry: "Generally speaking I think the ROI for an educational institution would look the same as a corporation. I'd also dispute the data security comment. Social Security numbers get hijacked from universities too. I'm not familiar with .EDU settings, but it seems like a no-brainer for BYOD. After all, those students all bring their own gear—-mostly Apple from what I've seen. "

15. The ROI on BYOD is found in interface familiarity and speed to implementation. Many BYOD early adopters are bailing in favor of corp owned due to boundary issues.

Larry: "Every implementation is different. And I could see an early adopter bailing. For instance, if my laptop blows I'm not sure what I'd do. Couldn't call corporate help really. If the access to data is difficult to reach from a personal device, you may be one of those folks touting a work device and a personal one. I'd argue that there will be some hybrid approach to BYOD."

16. What are you're thoughts on support with regards to BYOD? The business is likely to still want support, so increasing support costs. If IT do not to support them, then the business is wasting time trying to get them fixed. Is that cost effective?

See questions #3 and #13.

17. I'm not sure of the ROI equation, but the BYOD seems it would eliminate the "bottom rung" of IT workers from the payroll. How many more higher skilled folks do you need to bring on to enable the virtualization of data centers and desktops?

Larry: "I think the argument for virtualized desktops goes beyond BYOD. I think virtualized desktops will apply to every worker in some form. Why? Companies hate PC upgrade cycles—-it's one more thing to worry about. Then you have different OSes running around. You also have patching policies etc. Centralize all of that and a lot of headaches go away. I think thin (err cloud) clients apply to all workers in many respects. VMware and Citrix as well as others sure are hot on the idea and the revenue is actually showing up in the financial results now. "

18. For example, what if you are company XYZ and employee says, here is my Mac... Support it and make it run on your network. Ummm... OK.

Jason: "The idea of BYOD is not that IT supports hardware that it doesn't own. IT simply provides guidance to employees who prefer to use their own hardware and support themselves. This involves helping them figure out how to connect their devices to the company VPN, company resources, and company apps. The main task is creating documentation and help sheets and keeping those documents updated."

19. Can your guests [Larry and Jason] address some of the tools/techniques of securing the data that matters?

Larry: "Techniques would be to keep data centralized so it can be viewed and altered but not carried away on a device. There are also systems where data is stopped at the border. Say a word like confidential goes through the network and is stopped. The general theme is that data is controlled and secured by the enterprise, which shouldn't waste its time managing a fleet of devices. Specific tools would be mobile device management suites. RIM has entered that market, but there are literally dozens of players. I suspect RIM may have a nice entry into MDM simply because it's already embedded in enterprises."


Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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