If we're to believe some of the coverage around mobility and BYOD, you'd think that IT departments have been fumbling about in the dark when it comes to what devices users get as part of their working kit. Often, there are accusations about how IT won't relinquish control and claims of how individual productivity will soar if individuals can bring their own devices to work, but little hard data to back either position.
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At the recent NetEvents APAC Press and Analyst Summit, Ajay Sunder, a senior director with analyst firm Frost & Sullivan, highlighted that there are many challenges associated with BYOD programs.
"Before even talking about BYOD just trying to take the context what's happening today is that the role of individual has evolved. We are today having a Facebook persona, where you have a personal side of yours, you have most of your friends, you upload your personal pictures you share jokes. On the enterprise side you are using that application during the enterprise application like Oracle and you are interacting with enterprise users as well as vendors".
If businesses allow staff to use their own gear to work, what does that mean? I'll venture that most of the readers of Lifehacker will have both personal and business email accounts on their smartphones, tablets and computers. They'll use Facebook in one browser tab with a business application in the next. This presents a number of challenges for the IT manager whose role it is to somehow integrate legacy systems with platforms that didn't even exist a few years ago.
Sunder suggests that there are four main challenges.
Mobility: How can applications that were designed around the principal that the network would always be there work with devices that are only transiently connected to the network?
Management: How do enterprises manage, track and secure different applications that are accessing enterprise apps over the different networks?
Data: With more and more enterprise data being accessed from different devices what kind of access control do is needed with different types of data?
Ownership: If the business doesn't own the device, can they force the owners to install specific applications to overcome any of the first three challenges?
All of this rolls us around to the old chestnut of mobile device management (MDM) and the often misunderstood requirement for IT departments to maintain control. Adam Kelly, an account executive for Australia/New Zealand at AirWatch says that "within the MDM solution that you'll be looking at you'll want to make sure that you can separate what is personal and what is enterprise".
For IT departments, this requires reconsideration about what it means to manage end-point devices.
In the old days, IT would determine the specification for the hardware each user needed, buy them in bulk in order to help manage costs, and then deploy an SOE. Now, MDM is less about physical asset management (although that remains important in many situations) and more about application and data management.
Although Citrix is well known for its different virtualszation tools, it has supported BYOD with their own staff since 2008. Dino Soepono, Citrix director of pproducts, for Asia Pacific, says that "what's very important to start off with is to really define the policies that's going to drive this initiative, policies in relation to securities from users, which users are allowed to use which applications, which data".
Security is a critical issue when it comes to BYOD. At the NetEvents APAC Forum, Neeraj Khandelwal from Barracuda Networks asked attendees how many were using the conference's free Wi-Fi to access corporate data. Then he reminded everyone of the free Firefox plug-in, Firebug, and how it could be used to capture potentially sensitive data being sent over the open network.
Soepono's view: "Define the policies, use technology to enforce the policies, and you'll have a successful BYOD program".
Many BYOD projects rely on some form of virtualisation to deliver applications to non-traditional computing devices. By virtualising the desktop environment and then using a client application, it's possible to deliver traditional business applications to almost any platform. But the problem is that tablets and other new-wave devices aren't designed to be used in the same way. Applications that rely on a mouse and keyboard are often hard to use on tablets.
So, businesses need to look at application design in a different way and potentially deliver several different UIs. For example, they might have a smartphone, HTML-based and desktop apps that access the same data but take advantage and compensate for the differences in various platforms.
However, the transition to that level of delivery diversity is still some time off for many businesses.
Disclosure: Anthony Caruana travelled to Thailand as a guest of NetEvents.