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BYOD: Opportunity or threat?

Bring Your Own Device turns enterprise IT on its head.

Mobile computing is driving a sea change in the way software is purchased and deployed. A panel of mobility experts at ITWeb’s iPad in Enterprise forum debated ways in which the model is developing, but all agreed the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) trend is having profound effects on enterprise IT. Some are struggling to keep up, but organisations riding the wave are seeing productivity gains and cost savings.

Sean Wainer, country manager for Citrix in South Africa, believes virtualisation is playing a dominant role in realising the full benefits of BYOD strategies. “Users expect the same application on every platform. BYOD is becoming seen as a right, not a privilege,” he says. Virtualisation, already deeply embedded in enterprise IT, is now empowering a new generation of application deployment, he says, with major ramifications for software supply chains. “For example, by consolidating applications on servers, companies can purchase only the apps they need instead of entire suites, deploying them on the fly to users.”

Matteo Pagani, enterprise systems administrator for law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, is a Citrix customer and firmly behind a virtualisation strategy. The law firm has standardised on iPads, and is using Citrix technology to extend applications to mobile users, partly because there simply were no native apps that met their needs. “Although tablet apps provide basic document viewing and editing, we needed to include additional features,” Pagani says, pointing to the ability to track changes and enforce internal house styles, and integration with other services. “We have over 3.5 million documents managed with Interwoven, tightly integrated with Microsoft Office.”

Matteo Pagani, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Matteo Pagani, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr
For Cliff Dekker Hofmeyr, extending the Office environment through virtualisation meant instant access to the full power of the document repository, securely and centrally. “We use the standard mechanisms – remote wipe, password protection, and so on – but the risk is negligible,” Pagani says. “All our data is stored and protected centrally. And a user who stops working on a document on his PC in the office, then opens it on his iPad at home, will find the document exactly how he left it.”

Oliver Graaf, an engineer with Core Group, isn’t convinced. He believes that, over time, native apps will come to dominate and replace legacy applications. “Virtualisation is a useful stepping stone, but the real value comes from native applications, harnessing the existing facilities offered by the devices and cloud services,” he says. Graaf points out that many organisations are developing small apps to tackle immediate needs, pushing them out to mobile users through in-house app stores and gaining quick wins. Genentech, a pharmaceutical firm, scored a productivity win with an internal app dubbed ‘Get a room’, which helped staff find and book available meeting rooms.

Richard van der Walt, infrastructure architect, CIO team at FNB, is taking a measured middle ground. The bank is aggressively promoting mobile technology to both internal users and customers, but is taking a device-agnostic approach and allowing usage to mature organically. Over 80 000 devices have been sold to customers, and nearly 4 000 to staff, he says.

Matteo Pagani, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr
Traditional concerns, particularly around security, affordability, and bandwidth costs, were played down by the panel. It was agreed that both mobile and fixed data costs were coming down.

Likewise, devices are becoming ever more affordable, adds Van der Walt. “The affordability of the model, where devices are paid off over a period of two years, is driving the widespread adoption of the offer across income and age groups.”

“We have plenty of good connectivity,” agrees Wainer. “Soon, ‘work from anywhere’ will become the norm. The exceptions of the PC era will be the norm of the cloud era. Right now, it’s the exception to work wirelessly wherever you are, or to buy single applications rather than whole productivity suites. But that’s changing.”

Security remains a concern, however, especially among conservative IT managers. But Pagani points out that tablet computing has allowed Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr to relax some security constraints without risk. “All of our data is stored centrally, and there is no way for an app to interact with it. We can let users download apps and look for ways to be more productive, whereas we don’t allow that on PCs.”

KEEPING UP THE PERIMETER

Matteo Pagani, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr
Graaf notes that device management should be a key question for any IT manager facing BYOD. “You have to ask the questions: how is the device managed and secured? How does it integrate with enterprise management tools and policies?”

IT’s desire to maintain control and manage deployment risks causing friction, as well as device proliferation, and cloud services have put the power back in end user hands, warns Wainer. “Users want to share files, so they’ll sign up for Dropbox or similar, but Dropbox is a corporate nightmare,” he says. “There are data sovereignty questions about jurisdiction, encryption, access control... But block it, and the users will just sign up for something else. You have to realise the end users want the facility and have a business need for it, and then provide the service in a managed way.”

There’s no question BYOD and mobile computing can be extremely disruptive, but nimble IT operations can fi nd ways to turn that momentum into business advantages. A key driver within Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr is envy, says Matteo Pagani. “But not device envy – productivity envy.” For lawyers, time is money, and Pagani’s users are more productive – and more profitable – with mobile computing.

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