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I BYOD, Do You?

You can’t beat 'em, so join 'em. It's all about safe, secure enablement, allowing employees to incorporate personal devices into their business world and non-employees to interact more effectively with you.

Just what we need, more acronyms.... However, if you're not already thinking about what to do about the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend, I'd be surprised. The advance of tablets, smart-phones, netbooks and e-readers in the consumer world is like an unavoidable tidal wave overwhelming the shores in corporate and institutional America. These devices are coming "inside" and accessing networks whether welcomed or not. In my last post I talked about how the user should be at the center of an effective enterprise communications strategy; this is certainly a user-centric, user-driven trend. This brings huge potential--new ways to interact with customers, partners or visitors, new ways to enable your employees, but also headaches--loss of control and security issues. In the end though, I think this is an inevitable trend in most organizations, one that needs to be embraced as an opportunity rather than fought as a nuisance.

It is undeniable that there are major security and stability issues that need to be addressed with allowing all these devices and apps on your network. Wireless LAN network coverage needs to be engineered to manage peak times and areas for demand so as to permit effective, non-frustrating connectivity. Network capacity needs to be managed so that higher priority traffic is not jeopardized. Network access must be controlled, authenticating not only the user, but also the devices to ensure they are safe from malware. User access to specific areas of the network must also be controlled. The trick is to balance all this while still making it easy and seamless for the user, for example, by providing "express re-authentication" for returning users and devices. As with all technology, user-adoption is key; we all know that bad experiences tend to make people shy away from new things.

Arguably, no other type of organization is facing this trend more directly today than an educational institution. Wolf Creek Public Schools in Alberta, Canada provides a great example of an organization that is embracing this trend with a robust, well thought out strategy. You can read more about Wolf Creek's experience in this news article.

And this trend is not just about providing Internet access. Anything with a data connection, speaker and microphone needs to be viewed as a communications device now. My 10-year old daughter figured out on her own how to make her new iPod Touch into a "free" phone for talking and texting her friends (granted it only works where she has WiFi access, but that's getting easier to find). That’s a powerful capability that should be welcomed and harnessed. Software-based solutions that enable the employee to use their own device, and their preferred media (talk, text, email, chat, video, social networking, etc.) are more likely to be adopted--like an old pair of comfortable shoes. Just like a 10-year old can turn an iPod into a phone, an employee should be able to turn the device of their choice into an Enterprise-class communications device.

Lastly, while there are issues with providing end-user help-desk support for solutions driven outward by the IT department, I believe the BYOD trend is somewhat liberating in that regard. If this is viewed as a user-choice optional enablement initiative, as long as the user and device are well-contained to avoid negative impact, the support can be provided on a best-effort basis. Not to say you just drop the ball and ignore helping, but you can certainly provide guidelines on what is officially supported versus what is simply permissible to try.

So, BYOD--I say you can’t beat 'em, so join 'em. It's all about safe, secure enablement, allowing employees to incorporate personal devices into their business world and allowing non-employees to use them to interact more effectively with you. As always, I welcome your thoughts or counter-arguments.