Help desks critical to BYOD efforts

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

It seems like it was only yesterday when help desk staff could focus on PCs, Windows, the network, and perhaps a few BlackBerrys for executives and the sales team. Not anymore.

In the last several years, the number and variety of smart devices has exploded in the enterprise. Employee owned iPads, Android phones, even personal Macs now walk in off the street with regularity. And IT departments have started to embrace a broader catalogue of devices to satisfy the changing demands - even preferences - of the modern employee.

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Gartner is now predicting that 1 billion smartphones and tablets will be sold globally by 2015. IDC predicts that by 2015, employee-owned devices will account for 55% of business smartphones.

But regardless of whether these devices are purchased by an employee or procured by IT, workers will expect the IT department to support them. If it's not already, your help desk soon will be swamped by calls with questions about these increasingly sophisticated devices.

As strange as it might sound, the help desk may even start fielding the occasional e-reader support call for new arrivals like the Kindle Fire. So saying "no" is not a viable option. Companies that deny employees the use (and support) of their own devices risk limiting productivity as well as alienating an entire generation of workers who feel entitled to their personal electronic appendages.

How you support these devices will be the critical factor. The remarkable success of the iOS and Android devices is rewriting the rules for and raising the profile of the help desk. Support for mobility is the underpinning that empowers employees to be both more productive in their work and happier in their jobs (because of the work-life flexibility that mobile devices provide).

On the other hand, poor and ineffective support could wipe out any potential productivity gains and hurt the morale of your workforce. But with the proper preparation and tools, corporate help desks can provide support that enhances these productivity gains, empowers employees and even creates competitive advantages for their companies.

The Tactical Plan

The first step is to set policies on what devices you will support and how. To what extent can employees use the help desk for what kinds of support? How will you deliver that support? Talking a user through how to configure a smartphone to connect with Exchange, while he's standing in a noisy airport, is frustrating for both sides. Password resets, which tend to be the No. 1 support desk call, are proliferating along with all the mobile devices that are connecting to your network. How will you handle that? When corporate-owned devices were used primarily for e-mail and network access, configuration and support was relatively simple. But as companies roll out enterprise mobile applications, on tablets as well as smartphones, is your help desk prepared for the onslaught? And with devices that use 3G/4G as well as WiFi, connectivity support becomes more complex. Where does corporate help desk support end and mobile carrier customer support begin? And of course, the fact that these devices are mobile - that the user may not be in the same building, city, state or even country - presents its own set of support challenges.

The help desk requires new tools, technologies and skills for this new era to react quickly and help employees stay productive. The tools should enable technicians to easily reset forgotten passwords. They should be able to support smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices on demand. They'll need technology that enables simulation of many kinds of platforms. For problems that are too confusing or technical for a user to explain, the technician needs to be able to interact with the device directly, and to see exactly what the user sees, rather than telling a frustrated user to do this or push that and then asking, "did that work?"

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The help desk needs new skill sets as well. In addition to having Microsoft and Cisco certifications, staff should know mobile devices and mobile operating systems, including iOS and Android, and understand the ins and outs of mobile networks. A recent survey by Forrester Research found that, over the next year 83% of companies expect to support Apple's iOS and 77% expect to support Android, despite concerns about security

The Strategic Plan

Perhaps most important, however, is the new mindset that's needed to effectively support mobile devices. Traditional help desks usually have a break/fix, reactive mentality. In the era of mobile devices and applications, help desks have an opportunity to play a much more important role as a pro-active, critical enabler of business performance and employee productivity. It's not about fixing problems, but about enabling mobile business processes.

As enterprises create their own mobile applications, on tablets as well as smartphones, help desks will play a critical role. First, the help desk becomes a more important support as these new applications are rolled out to the mobile devices of far-flung users. Second, ongoing training of employees and support of these applications must be effective and efficient.

If users become frustrated and demoralized by a botched roll-out or weak support, they not only won't use the application, but you may have spoiled the well for adoption of future applications. If initial applications are well supported and enthusiastically received, you've greased the wheels for your employees to further embrace productivity-enhancing applications.

Finally, as corporations begin to depend more on mobile devices for important business applications, your capability to support users becomes mission critical. In fact, your capability to support your users will have a direct impact on how well your company serves its customers.

Imagine, for example, that one of your company's salespeople is on the road and gets a panic-stricken phone call from a key account. The customer is rolling out a new application but has run into a major problem provisioning the software. Rather than having the customer cool his heels while the salesman tracks down the right information, the salesman uses a mobile CRM application to call up key details of the account, including what kind of support contract it has and where to direct them for hands-on help.

Without high quality, effective support, the potential of the mobile revolution to increase productivity and lower costs could demonstrate a different kind of mobility - and move out of reach.

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