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Help desks critical to BYOD efforts

By Lee Weiner, vice president of support products, LogMeIn, special to Network World
January 19, 2012 03:45 PM ET

Network World - 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.

Tech argument: Corporate-owned vs. employee-owned mobile devices

BYOD: There is no stopping employees' devices on your network

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.

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