Managing UC in a BYOD world

Sponsored By: Rogers

Not long ago, using a personal smartphone or tablet in the workplace was a contentious issue. Nowadays, it’s becoming the norm, and any IT department hoping to clamp down on the bring-your-own-device trend should brace for push back. Employees need more flexibility and increasingly are using personal mobile tools at work and on the go. They want to connect when and where they happen to be — perhaps checking the status of a customer order or holding a videoconference with colleagues.

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It’s a good thing, from a productivity point of view. But for many IT departments, the inherently open and public nature of BYOD poses management and security challenges, particularly when it comes to unified communications.

However, the consumerization of IT is here to stay. According to a recent survey by Cass Information Systems on BYOD mobility, 85 per cent of businesses have incorporated BYOD into their telecom portfolio.

Employees don’t want to lug around separate devices for work and personal use. They need flexibility, and they want the newest generation of the latest hip technologies. But, it can put them at odds with corporate IT departments that aren’t always able to keep up with consumer tech trends.

A BYOD strategy can help bridge the gulf, but it has to be structured to deal with the issues that arise around supporting those devices from a compliance and security perspective.

Despite the challenges, it opens up opportunities for mobile UC — improving collaboration, productivity and even employee morale. Trying to standardize on a single mobile-device platform, however, seems old school.

Organizations should aim instead to develop policies for acceptable use within corporate environments and best practices around security then back those up with a mobile device management (MDM) solution.

UC ties together disparate communication systems, from email to voice, video, chat and presence. It involves integrating devices into an overall communication strategy — and increasingly that strategy includes BYOD.

Mobile devices, such as smartphones, are proving to be powerful tools in the UC arsenal. Organizations should spend less time blocking these devices and focusing instead on how to harness the power of these. After all, the true value of UC is to provide rich communications function and applications, regardless of the device an employee happens to be using.

While the global UC market is growing, mobility is expected to power future UC growth. Gartner identified mobility as among the top UC trends for midmarket companies in 2015. And adoption is likely to increase as providers develop more sophisticated mobile apps for UC products.

It makes sense. Employees realizing great value from BYOD and equally benefitting from mobile UC, which allows them to work remotely, on the road or at a customer site. UC provides them with real-time communications — and access to corporate data — at their fingertips, on the device they’re most comfortable using.

But, this also means IT environments are becoming more complex and challenging to manage. BYOD not only introduces a variety of potentially new devices into the workplace, but also different models of those devices with different versions of the operating system. Without detailed corporate policies in place that define rules for access, corporate data is vulnerable. Questions abound: What happens when if hackers targets an employee’s personal devices as a “way in” to corporate operations? What corporate information can be wiped remotely if a device is lost or stolen, or if the employee leaves the company.

Without dedicated security policies that set out clear guidelines for what devices are approved and how these should be used and administered, both UC and BYOD could become dangerous liabilities, according to TechTarget blogger Jon Arnold. With the right strategy in place and clear rules and procedures that are following, employees can more safely use these resources without exposing the company to unnecessary risk.

Aside from dedicated policies (and user education to ensure these rules are adhered to and always followed), integrating BYOD into a UC platform requires the creation of appropriate user credentials: there’s more to it than simply granting employees access to UC apps on their personal devices.

Companies with an existing UC strategy must determine which mobile devices, platforms and UC features are supported. Some UC features may not be fully available on mobile devices without special software or accessories (such as making phone calls on a tablet, for example). It’s the same with hosted UC — smartphones should be fairly easy to integrate, but in some cases special software may be required.

Today, UC products are more likely to support mobile operating systems such as Google Android and Apple iOS. But they weren’t designed to manage those connections — in other words, they don’t manage user access to corporate data (and who’s accessing what). That’s where mobile device management comes in.

Fortunately, MDM tools have advanced enough to address many of the concerns of BYOD in a UC world. And a number of IT and communications service providers offer MDM tools that include functions such as auditing and device tracking to help IT staff keep track of corporate applications (including UC) on employee devices (including BYOD).

When it comes to unifying real-time communications, BYOD can be a complication, but it can also be pivotal success. A strategy that allows employees to access UC apps on personal devices unleashes new communication and collaboration opportunities — so long as IT policies safeguard and manage corporate assets.

It’s a BYOD world — and UC needs to work along with it rather than against it.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

Sponsored By: Rogers

Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.