Gone are the days where workplace communications were limited to an office phone and desktop computer. Employees are demanding the freedom to communicate in multiple streams any time, anywhere, from any device.
Take phones for instance. A recent article published by Gartner predicts by year end 2013, 40 percent of enterprise workers will have abandoned or removed their desk phone in favor of their mobile.
This “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) trend is empowering users to communicate more effectively. It allows them to use whichever device they’re most comfortable with and gives them the freedom to access information, clients and colleagues in the office, on the road or in the coffee shop and, increasingly at home.
All great news if you’re a BYOD user. A challenge – some might say nightmare – for the IT department, in whose lap the challenges of creating and managing this unified experience falls.
We invited Softchoice’s own IT Manager James Ambursley and Unified Communications Expert Frank Ball to sit down over a cup of joe and discuss the promise and challenges of BYOD.
What are you overall thoughts on the advent of Bring Your Own Device?
Frank: At the end of the day, it’s a win for everybody – even IT and even if they’re not seeing the light just quite yet. BYOD and the unified communications and collaboration tools behind the scenes that make it a reality ultimately help organizations move with greater speed and agility. It’s technology that empowers people to communicate more effectively, improving business processes and helping businesses achieve better profitability. James: Well, BYOD is one of those new buzz terms in the industry and I think what it really means is “look out!” Unified communications sounds like a great answer for many organizations but I have concerns that the theory and reality don’t mesh up in a whole host of areas – end user experience/performance, security, resource use and compatibility.
Well how about we tackle each of those. Let’s start with end user experience/performance. James, what are your concerns?
James: For starters, a lot of us in IT are concerned about issues like poorly configured machines that react badly on our networks. It just opens a big can of worms. And then there’s the issue of wireless performance. It’s finite for SCC users, meaning it’s not meant to be the primary mode of communication. Not to mention, wireless is capped at a fraction of land line speed and we don’t have enough wireless access points to connect large numbers of users if, say, everyone starts bringing in their iPads Frank: Great points. But there are already unified communications solutions out there that address many of these experience and performance concerns. With any of these new technologies, it’s a given that you need a solid network and fast connection. And you want to think about choosing unified communication tools from one vendor so you can add other features more easily in the future – for instance a softphone client for PCs or single number reach, which allows employees to be reached automatically on their mobile, desk or home phone.
How about security?
James: Not surprisingly, it’s a huge concern for me and I know Frank appreciates why I think so. After all, with the potential for so many BYOD mobiles flying around, there’s the a risk of data loss from lost or stolen devices, not to mention malware and vulnerability to the organization from unsecured point of access or weak security links. So how do you ensure the kind of robust security an enterprise needs across today’s diverse mobile devices without stifling users’ creativity or productivity, or shutting them out from the files they need to touch on their machines? Frank: Yeah, I’m reading your mail – so to speak! There’s obviously a whole other level of vigilance expected from IT managers and obviously a dedicated approach to the challenge. Security here is clearly no longer simply about traditional firewalls. Security vulnerability with mobile devices needs to be addressed and the major mobile players – Apple, Google, Nokia and of course Blackberry – have made significant progress toward key enterprise must-haves like data synchronization, remote wiping and locking in case devices are lost or stolen and management software that keeps personal and business data completely separate – and therefore secure. The big players are already transforming enterprise mobile security, allowing organizations to provide reliable and easy-to-deploy encrypted network connectivity to mobile workers wherever they are. The aim here is ultimately to give users flexibility and freedom, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some constraints and compliance rules. It can’t be a complete free-for-all. Employees, for instance, have to agree to allow their devices to be subject to the same kind of monitoring and security policies corporate devices are subject to now.
James: I did. How do we, for instance, guarantee a user’s device doesn’t naturally produce a broadcast storm when it connects to our network? And how about additional technical resources needed to resolve issues introduced by disparate devices? Frank: Well, luckily, for concerns like broadcast storms, companies like Cisco have switches with a loop avoidance mechanism called Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) that eliminates redundant links in your network – it can go a long way to avoiding meltdowns. On the issue of additional technical resources, they’re definitely needed for troubleshooting issues that mobile carriers won’t be able to help users with. But one of the keys is to find solutions that bridge the gap – for instance ones that can allow different instant messaging or presence standards from, say, Google, Microsoft and other players to communicate with one another. If you can use solutions that unify these disparate worlds, it makes resolving issues that much easier in the back-end – and that means the need for technical resources is kept in check.
James: Yes. With the various OS possibilities for user comfort in personal devices, difficulties inevitably arise for machines that don’t meet preset compatibility requirements. Do we provide an alternative to users? Do we adjust our compatibility requirements? How do we determine what features may not work in unified communication without knowing the device fully ahead of time? Frank: Well, we’ll never know every device fully ahead of time but there are still a finite number of them and we can do a good job of dealing with the ones we know. There are a variety of unified communication tools that address these compatibility issues and take enterprise collaboration to the level we need it to be at – like dual-mode, where devices can seamlessly make voice calls, connect and transfer from a WLAN to a public cellular network and back again. Or a unified mobile communicator that offers features like visual voicemail, corporate directory access, even presence.
Softchoice’s Cisco Unified Communications Readiness Assessment can help you rapidly identify your current state environment and develop a roadmap for transforming communications and collaboration tools to better align with your business. Whether you’re starting from scratch, wanting to just increase utilization of your existing equipment or integrate some existing equipment with the latest and greatest, Softchoice can tailor the assessment to what you need and we can help you determine the unified experience that will meet the needs of your unique organization. Visit www.softchoice.com/onevoice to take advantage of this assessment.