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A novel concept? The Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) Network

Today the Bring Your Own Device – or “BYOD” – phenomenon is on the rise and quickly becoming a business standard. A recent study by the Aberdeen Group shows that more than seven out of 10 organisations allow employees to use their own devices for business purposes, and more are joining them every day.

There are several important factors driving BYOD in businesses. First, companies are responding to worker expectations. Well over 40 per cent of all U.S. mobile subscribers have smartphones with advanced functionality, a figure that will only rise. Employees want the same powerful capabilities to be available at work – without the inconvenience of carrying one device for business and another for personal use.

There are also significant cost and productivity advantages to be gained by companies supporting the BYOD trend. Not since the early days of instant messaging--which revolutionised how co-workers engaged in quick collaboration--has consumer technology been so far ahead of business technology. The vast capabilities and apps now found in devices owned by employees can help companies catch up to the new norm in today’s inter-connected, “always-on” world, and help pave new paths to productivity.

Reigning in Challenges

For all its benefits, however, the BYOD phenomenon has its challenges, ranging from bandwidth demands to security risks to quality issues. While IT and Telecom supervisors don’t want to stifle employees, they must retain a certain level of enterprise-class control. Without management and planning, BYOD can rapidly devolve into a “wild west” environment, with unsecured devices and bandwidth-sapping applications putting a business network at risk.

To avoid communications chaos, it pays to fortify a business communications network for the new generation of mobile workers, which includes those on-the-road, those based at home, and workers on-the-go—even as they travel within their workplace. More of these workers are communicating via their own mobile gadget, which serves as both a personal and business hub. To address the challenges of a BYOD-ready network head-on, put a management strategy in place now, which will help your business capture the full benefits of mobility, even as worker and consumer tastes evolve. Here are five strategic tips you can use to ensure your company’s network, communications applications and corporate policies are up to the BYOD challenge.

  • Gauge your network for scalability

BYOD can lead to an explosion in bandwidth demands as companies support more endpoints and begin to deliver video communications and other productivity-enhancing applications. In fact, industry analysts attribute a recent 40 per cent growth spurt in wireless enterprise LANs to the BYOD trend and the skyrocketing popularity of the Apple iPad. This means businesses moving to BYOD must have a highly-scalable network that can support multiple communications endpoints for each employee - device that doubles as a business device.

With so many devices vying for network resources, it’s important to determine whether your company’s communications infrastructure has the capacity, flexibility and scalability needed to accommodate current and anticipated needs, while ensuring easy accessibility and enterprise-class reliability.

  • Tighten up network security

A recent study by the SANS Institute found that less than one in 10 organisations surveyed were “fully aware” of the devices accessing their networks, and only half were “vaguely or fairly” aware. The remainder had no clue.

Don’t put your head in the sand. IT and telecom managers need to ensure their organisation is prepared for the considerable security challenges of BYOD. New consumer devices can introduce unwanted viruses and apps into a business, so it’s important to conduct a thorough assessment to see if sufficient security policies and procedures are in place. They also can compromise your compliance with HIPPA, SOX, PCI DSS and other important regulations.

When instant messaging began, workers gravitated to public IM systems that were unencrypted, and IT departments soon realised the need to button up this loose environment. The threats back then pale in comparison to today’s viruses and malware that can wreak havoc on a network. All it takes is for one harmful app to be downloaded to a network-accessible mobile device.

Some essentials include mobile device management software to authenticate BYOD endpoints used on a network. Use SIP trunks for network and communications security, with session border controllers to encrypt call signaling and media. You’ll be able to deliver real-time protection against denial-of-service attacks and toll fraud threats on the fly, without the need for VPNs and firewall tunnels.

Password protection is also a must when deploying mobile or BYOD devices. Consider ‘wipe’ software so data on employee-owned devices can be remotely removed if the device is lost or stolen. Competitive information, personal employee data, corporate emails and all sorts of private information could be exposed if an unprotected device falls into the wrong hands.

  • Make SIP a central ingredient

Many corporate networks are built around a proprietary framework. But to truly benefit from the innovative mobility capabilities employees crave, companies need to adopt an open, interoperable and standards-based infrastructure that can tap the full potential of a multi-vendor network, and make it easy to reach higher levels of collaboration.

Scalable, SIP-based unified communications solutions are the best way to place open interoperability at the core of your multivendor network and make a smooth transition to advanced communications in a cost-effective way. With SIP, companies are able to manage new endpoints more efficiently, better prioritise network traffic, and gain more control over voice calls, video and other communication sessions. This all adds up to a better user experience.

Among the advanced capabilities SIP can bring to BYOD users are secure instant messaging, “presence” and integrated corporate directories, all beneficial to mobile workers using one device for both their personal and business use. When BYOD endpoints are infused with applications that use presence, employees can showcase their availability status to colleagues and clients. They can also manage their available times and levels of connectivity, using a single BYOD device to make the distinction between home and work availability. In some cases, users can view the ‘presence’ of conference call participants, helping to determine which colleagues are available to join in.

  • Know what consumer devices do best – and what they don’t

Though consumer devices can bring newfound flexibility to an organisation, they are not a replacement for the specialised devices vital to most businesses. Think of BYOD endpoints as a complement to – not a replacement for – your core communications tools.

To maintain the superior communications experience employees and clients expect, companies still require office-based endpoints that deliver enterprise-class voice quality and features (voicemail, directories, touchscreen functionality) – from speakerphones and videoconferencing systems in conference rooms to full-featured phones on desks. But IT managers should also ensure to equip desktop devices with the ability to interconnect with workers’ BYOD devices. Mobile capabilities such as “extension-to-cellular”—which extends calls made to a worker’s deskphone to their mobile device—should be standard on deskphones, as office workers seek seamless communications between all of their devices.

Depending on your type of business, you may even need specialised wireless devices, coupled with the right applications and processes, to serve all or part of your organisation. The staff worker in a hospital, for instance, will likely need a different approach to mobility than the warehouse supervisor, retail clerk or contact centre agent. Obtaining the right partners and applications for your specific mobile device needs will ensure your workforce is well-equipped for effective collaboration

For example, Parkview Health of Indiana, USA, enables staff to use iPhone devices containing a proprietary mobility application to give nurses a way to consolidate all of their alerts into one device--a leap ahead of the days when communications was handled via a nurse’s station. This can help streamline administration, which reduces a patient’s length-of-stay, making patients happier and saving the hospital money.

  • Establish a comprehensive BYOD policy

Define what your BYOD policies will be before you dive in. But do so with an eye towards flexibility. It pays to capitalise on worker enthusiasm for new modes of collaboration that can promote and inspire productivity and employee satisfaction. Still, there are key questions to consider: Will employees be reimbursed when bringing their own device to work? Will any restrictions be placed on what type of devices can be used? What will you do about unsecured consumer applications employees might want to use? Which support issues will your IT team handle and which ones will be referred to the device manufacturer? Establishing policies in advance and disseminating them widely can keep employees enthused about company innovation, while keeping an enterprise more secure.

Finally, be sure to get out ahead of work-life balance issues when bringing BYOD options into the mix, either as a policy or a cultural norm. When employees have a personal smartphone enabled with enterprise applications, they are readily accessible as issues and opportunities crop up. But even in an ‘always on’ world, colleagues should be careful about routinely interrupting private time away from work. Set reasonable ground rules and expectations right up front and have supervisors walk the talk. This will keep intrusions into personal evenings and weekends a rarity, and BYOD a more satisfying and productive phenomenon.

Gary E. Barnett is senior vice president and general manager of Collaboration Platforms for Avaya, a global provider of business collaboration and communications solutions. He previously led the Avaya Unified Communications Applications team.