How BYOD is re-shaping the IT environment

BYOD Graphic

Going mobile…

The rise of the portable computing device has been remarkable.

The wave started with the modern laptop which unchained users from fixed desktops, and has now moved to the almost ubiquitous use smartphone and tablets.

However, the role of IT, especially within larger enterprises, is still mostly centralised and delivered by internal IT departments. The same vexing issues around software and service delivery are present and in many ways have not been helped by the desire of users to have instant accessibility, irrespective of device.

A recent survey from analyst firm Ovum suggests that more than 60 percent of laptop users either bring their own laptop into the office or work from home. While the laptop is a relatively comfortable device for IT departments to extend into the corporate environment, the same survey highlights that these laptop users also now expect the same accessibility from their smartphone and tablet.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many IT departments would rather not let wholesale BYOD run rampant across the organisation because it throws up a number of significant operational issues for IT managers such as: How do we uniformly manage printing from these devices? Can we ensure synchronisation of data between desktop, laptop, smartphone? Are these devices all secure, meeting our policies and are they patched properly?

Some firms’ first response was simply to not support a user’s own device. However, this became untenable when senior execs and boards started demanding accessibility too.

Organisations then opted for an ad-hoc, case-by-case deployment to specific groups or via application. Through speaking with customers, this is where the bulk of BYOD is currently.

However, for many organisations the demands of a BYOD user community and drivers from senior business leaders has actually provided an opportunity to structurally reform IT delivery.

Never look a gift horse…

IT is still predominately a server-to-client process which is centrally bought, managed and supported. The most commonly used desktop is still Microsoft Windows on Intel-based hardware, which a great leveller in terms of creating a uniform and coherent IT support infrastructure. Windows is well-understood and has proven methodology for creating a standard user profile, desktop build, and authentication and application delivery.

The rise of multi-operating system BYOD activity, and the fact that more than a third of applications are delivered from the browser, is now forcing IT departments to think differently. The mindset of managing the Windows operating system and fixed Intel hardware is moving rapidly to true IT as a service.

IT departments can now justify thinking differently about service delivery. The new challenge is not about managing the device or restricting access but instead creating and managing the workspace. The workspace – whether that served up from Citrix, VMware or Microsoft technologies – has become the new critical point of delivery. IT departments need to accept there will be more mobile devices, operating systems and other unknown BYOD offshoots, but if they are able to shift to a mind-set that concentrates on the workspace and the user, the challenge is not insurmountable.

So what does that mean from a tactical point of view?

IT managers need to forget the notion of a static desktop. The device is just the end point. Instead the management of users, applications and data should be, essentially, device independent.

There are a number of management and automation frameworks that do exactly that and thousands of forward thinking organisations are already benefitting from this approach.

As users move between devices and locations, the setting and features move with them, but based on policy. Access to applications and data also needs to be policy-driven based on device and location. Both of the criteria around personalisation and accessibility again can be driven around centrally managed policies, but with automation tools to reduce the complexity of service delivery.

The surveys highlighting the benefits of BYOD are numerous, but few ask IT departments about the operational challenges. Despite IT departments supporting double, or even triple, the number of devices that they did five years ago, in many cases corresponding resources have not been allocated to meet the demand.

One common response is to switch to a more self-service model and that requires the creation of automation tools and users “IT Shops” that are policy driven. By offering users a good set of approved applications that are automatically provisioned, the temptation to go rogue and use ad-hoc apps (such as Dropbox) for file sharing or unmonitored VoIP (such as Skype) becomes less likely.

Although we have touched on a number of areas, the message is that BYOD can provide the impetus for IT departments to start reshaping service delivery in a more sustainable fashion. The plethora of devices and the increased mobility of users are not going to abate.

By accepting that IT needs to be more dynamic and flexible, potentially embracing desktop and workspace virtualisation, IT departments can stop playing catch-up and instead start to build an IT delivery model designed for a BYOD world.

The over-riding benefit here is that workspace virtualisation will allow the IT department to manage and automate a user’s workspace, no matter what device they are using, where they are or what time of the day it is.

Helen Wood is channel director at RES Software


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