BYOD and IT Support of the End User

In an earlier post I talked about what Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is. In this series of short posts I want to explore some of the issues around implementing BYOD in an enterprise – something I am currently thinking and working on – starting with support.

If yours is a traditional enterprise IT shop then support for end user devices will be performed by an internal or outsourced service desk. For mobile phones (including smartphones) this support will often be outsourced to a Communications Service Provider (CSP) who provides a complete solution: device, and voice and data services. How is this going to work if the device being used by your employees is owned and managed by them, and not your enterprise?

First let’s think about the problems with traditional support models and BYOD:

  • Traditional support relies on having a restricted number of different devices, and restricted configurations (e.g. Standard Operating Environments). Taking support calls for any number of different devices with any configuration means that you face much higher support costs due to problems being harder to resolve.
  • Many device issues are caused by software conflicts. One way of managing this is to restrict the software that may be installed on a device to enterprise packaged and tested applications. This reduces the possibility of software conflicts, and means that once a conflict is identified it can be either removed (through re-packaging) or at support staff can be informed of it. A personal device owned and managed by an employee could have any software installed on it. This will mean software conflicts are more likely to happen and makes resolving such conflict issues much more troublesome and time-consuming.
  • Support issues often require the removal of software, the changing of settings or significant changes to a device – e.g. “rebuilds” or “restores”. In the case of a personally owned device these options could be declined by an employee because of their sometimes significant impact (e.g. the loss of data or personalisation).

These problems can be summed up as cost and control issues. The high costs of support for BYOD can mean that this approach is more costly than a traditional enterprise supplied device. These problems mean that we really have three kinds of response when it comes to BYOD: (1) use a traditional support model and accept the additional cost of supporting BYOD (and potentially address control issues through policy); (2) offer different support models for BYOD devices; and, (3) offer reduced or restricted support for personal devices.  If your organisation sees the benefits of BYOD as being significant then the additional costs of option 1 may be acceptable. Otherwise, for a more cost-sensitive organisation, options 2  or 3 could be used to attempt to attempt to reduce the cost of supporting personal devices.

Reduced support is basically done by saying that your standard corporate help desk will offer less help when dealing with a personal device than they would normally with a corporate owned device. Typical restrictions are:

  • Support is only available for corporate supplied applications/services (e.g. email or remote access).
  • Support is limited in duration (e.g. a maximum of two minutes per problem).
  • No corporate support is offered – support is entirely at the owner’s effort and expense.

The other option is to take advantage of consumer support models for supporting these consumer devices. Support is often provided for these devices by Communications Service Providers to consumers (though it may not be up to the usual level required for standard corporate support), or, alternatively consumer electronics stores or support services could be contracted. These models may introduce additional security risks and therefore should be considered carefully before being adopted, but may prove appropriate.

In choosing a support model you will need to factor in the type of BYOD approach your organisation is pursuing. Reduced or restricted support models are probably only appropriate for a BYOD approach where employees can use their own personal device instead of using a corporate one (types 1 and 2 from my original post). These support models are unlikely to work for a BYOD approach based on replacing corporate owned/selected devices with employee owned or selected ones (types 3 and 4). If the employee owned or selected device is their primary tool for performing their job, then it has to be functional or they can’t work – saying they have to support it themselves or they have to rely on consumer level support is unlikely to cut it.


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