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Mastering the BYOD Balancing Act: The Softchoice Journey

From the experts | Posted on March 25, 2013 by Lesley Morris

It’s funny how things evolve so quickly. Just a few years ago, the thought of employees using their own phones or laptops for work at work was unthinkable.

But as the consumerization of IT trend grows from a trickle to a flood, many organizations have no choice but consider how to implement a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program. And the experience at Softchoice was no different.

Francis Li, Softchoice’s VP of Information Technology, faced this dilemma a couple of years ago and says “Initially we were resistant to the idea of BYOD, primarily because of security concerns around our corporate data. How could we control access to our valuable corporate assets with all kinds of devices accessing our networks?”

But then a couple of surprising things happened. First, some users who were eligible to receive corporate mobile devices were choosing not to do so. If they didn’t want a corporate device, what were they using?

Then, as part of a regular network review with one of our own TechChecks, IT discovered that over 150 non-standard corporate devices were connected to the network – which meant a lot of personal devices were already being used to access company data.

Subtle changes lead to fundamental change

Because an “underground” BYOD program was already underway, Li and other Softchoice leaders decided the time had come to re-evaluate their philosophy around personal device usage.

Additionally, the company also was noticing that costs for corporate owned mobile devices were growing as staff increasingly used them not only for work, but for personal emails, web surfing, on vacations and through loss and replacement of devices.

Li says “ We realized that what we were seeing was a fundamental change in how the company’s users were using their corporate mobile and laptop technologies, and it was having a direct impact on our costs, the ability of IT to support and control the environment and potentially impacting our data security. “

Not just a technology project

Li and his team recognized BYOD was something that would impact the whole company – it would require wholesale changes to our IT infrastructure, our usage and people management policies. It also required a shift in thinking in how to balance the security needs of the organization, with the demands of employees using devices of their own choosing where and when they wanted to use them.

First Steps

The IT Team analyzed employees’ mobile device usage, categorizing users by departments, studying use patterns and determining where possible, what amount of usage was corporate and what was personal. To the team’s surprise, the analysis showed that in some cases personal usage was 25% or even higher.

A thorough review was also conducted on corporate laptops and PCs to determine the number and type of Service Desk tickets received over the past year, the type of repairs, loss and replacements required and if there were password and authentication issues.

After a thorough analysis, the IT team shared their findings with the company’s department heads to source their thoughts on how to manage the increasing costs and employees expectations.

A cross-departmental BYOD committee was created to review the issues, and with the participation of HR, IT and Legal departments, a strategy was formulated laying out two plans for employees.

Mobile Plan: All employees select their own mobile device. A monthly stipend is allotted to cover acquisition and data usage costs and anything above the set limit is the employees’ responsibility, including all support and maintenance costs.

Laptop Plan: Employees who prefer to select their own laptops receive a stipend to cover acquisition and support; costs in excess of the stipend are the employee’s responsibility. The allowance, provided every fourth year, assumes a 3 year lifespan per laptop and requires employees to also purchase a 3 year warranty agreement to ensure support and maintenance.

Security Solutions
Security concerns, initially a huge drawback to implementing a BYOD laptop program, were resolved when the IT team developed a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) environment, ensuring centralized access control and security. Mobile device security was managed by a mandatory 4-digit password for users accessing MS Active Sync (for Exchange). The IT team is also currently evaluating options for MDM solutions, to implement in the next phase.

Enabling BYOD
Now with a solid plan and infrastructure in hand, the BYOD committee gauged employee interest by distributing an employee survey. The results showed that everyone was excited about BYOD and viewed the transition as a progressive, proactive strategy that would enhance their employee experience. About 20% of employees chose to go with their own laptop, and Li expects that number to grow as employees become more familiar with the program.

The Results
Softchoice launched the program in Fall 2012 and a few months into it, Li thinks it has been a resounding success.

“Feedback from employees has been very positive. Whether a user is managed by Softchoice or they’ve selected the self-service option, the user experience is the same. Users find themselves to be more productive working on devices of their choice, and they are more conscientious about maintaining their own devices.“ says Li.

“In addition BYOD has let the IT team become more strategic as we move away from delivering IT support. We can focus more on business outcomes and leveraging technology to accomplish the results the company wants. Best of all, our costs are now completely predictable which is a huge advantage to the business.”

The Future of BYOD

Li thinks the future may be a totally internet-enabled workforce. Eventually organizations will no longer procure and manage any devices, and everyone will use the device of their own choosing.

Software as a Service ( SaaS) applications have made it easier for people to choose what applications they want to use, when they want to use them. It just seems logical to allow users to access their favourite applications on the device of their choice as well.

For organizations thinking about starting their own program, Li has this advice, “Be sure to get a baseline read on your BYOD landscape first, to find out what’s already in place. Every organization probably has some element of BYOD now and it will only grow. Assessing your current environment and ensuring that you have a thorough set of policies to clearly identify the roles and responsibilities are key to BYOD success.”

So whether you call it Bring Your Own Device, (BYOD), Bring Your Own Computer ( BYOC) or Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), device diversity is here to stay. Mastering your own BYOD balancing act might be that great opportunity to provide employees with the technology they want, while increasing productivity, reducing costs and positioning your organization as progressive and cutting edge – a great home for innovation and new young talent.

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