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Making BYOD work: lessons from the classroom

This article was originally published on Technology.Info.
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Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is not new. The concept has been sitting on the agenda of company boardrooms for the last few years. But, with concerns around security, control, and now shadow IT rising to the forefront, many companies have shied away from implementing a BYOD strategy.

However, we have reached a point where avoiding the issue is no longer an option. A recent

survey by Webroot

found that the number of employees using personal devices for work is more than double the number of those using company-owned devices. For businesses the message is clear; employees will continue to use their own devices in the workplace, regardless of whether a BYOD strategy or policy is in place.

BYOD as an opportunity

Rather than be seen as a threat, BYOD should be viewed as an opportunity. Not only can it reduce hardware costs and improve productivity, but employees are often happier if they can use their own device for work. So companies need to alter their attitude towards BYOD and learn from those sectors where it is already being successfully implemented.
If there is one sector that businesses can learn a lot from it is the Education sector. Many perceive the public sector to be laggards when it comes to tech adoption, but at NETGEAR, we are seeing huge traction around BYOD in this sector. As smartphone ownership becomes more pervasive, teachers and students want to bring their own devices into the classroom. As a result, the sector has made BYOD work and is transforming how students are learning, teachers are teaching and critically, the mind set of the workforce of the future.

Preparing the workforce of tomorrow

This shift in learning means that businesses today need to start preparing for the workforce of tomorrow. If a student is accustomed to using multiple devices in the learning environment, then it is only natural that this expectation is going to carry on into the workplace, so having a network infrastructure that can support BYOD is vital.
As the number of different devices connected to the network continues to rise - both company-provisioned and employee-owned - so too will the amount of voice, data and video traffic across the network. This in turn will cause congestion, which can manifest itself as performance bottlenecks or downtime. Bridgewater Primary School in Northamptonshire experiences this exact problem and had to update its wireless network – access points, controllers and switches - when it realised it could no longer cope with the increased demand from the use of mobile devices in the classroom.

Implementing a BYOD strategy the right way

When implementing a BYOD strategy this is something that businesses would need to consider. I have seen many schools successfully circumnavigate this problem by focusing on the number of devices rather than the number of users when deploying a new Wireless Local Area Network. So for example, a school of 250 ‘users’ could easily be doubled when you factor in the number of devices. But it is vital that this is considered from the offset.
Problems can also arise if companies are spread across a number of buildings, with connectivity often lost when moving between buildings. Wireless networks in Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council’s schools consisted of just a few access points, but this caused problems when moving devices between classrooms. It deployed an average of twelve access points and two 1GB switches per school to enhance coverage, managed by a wireless controller to provide uninterrupted access, regardless of location.

According to Gartner, 38 per cent of companies expect to stop providing devices to workers by 2016. But if organisations want to reap the benefits from a BYOD approach, then they need to understand that wireless networks are not a bolt on or accessory overlay on the IT network, but a critical enabler of a successful BYOD policy. The tech-savvy ‘Generation Y-fi’ is fortunate to be growing up in a world where technology and collaboration is enabling a new way of learning, but if this trend is to be continued into their working lives then networking strategies must be re-addressed.
Tris Simmons is a networking expert at NETGEAR