When it comes to BYOD, higher ed has been there, done that for years.

Debra Donston-Miller, Contributor

August 1, 2013

6 Min Read

10 Tech Tools To Engage Students

10 Tech Tools To Engage Students

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The BYOD, or bring your own device, phenomenon is taking businesses by storm -- and sometimes by surprise. But higher-ed IT departments have been dealing with BYOD for years now. In fact, they have a thing or two to teach the business world about effectively managing and securing an ever-changing mix of user-owned devices.

In fact, make it 10 things to teach the business world.

1. Be Prepared.

Colleges and universities gird themselves each fall for a raft of new devices, new users and new issues. Businesses won't have to deal with BYOD challenges all at once, but they do need to be prepared -- for anything. "Colleges and universities have dealt with personally owned devices far longer than the emergence of the BYOD acronym," said Paul Hill, consultant with SystemExperts. "Each fall, a freshman class arrives, typically with a variety of personally owned devices including laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, network printers, IP TVs, standalone webcams, servers and even NAS devices. ... Many faculty and staff members also have some personally owned devices that are connected directly to the campus network or are used for remote access."

2. Develop Policy.

While the BYOD model by its nature removes a degree of control from the IT department, it shouldn't be a mobile free-for-all. Colleges and universities provide students and faculty with minimum requirements, guidelines and policy around mobile device and wireless use, and so, too, should businesses. "Business should develop mobility use cases and determine the best plan of action to handle access," said Pej Roshan, VP of product management at ShoreTel. "Set up specific policies that describe the access that's appropriate to the different user roles."

[ Higher ed is jumping into business' well-worn territory with private social networks. See Universities Create Their Own Social Networks For Students. ]

3. Minimize Diversity.

Higher-ed IT departments also look to apply an appropriate level of control by minimizing mobile device diversity to the degree possible. "Higher-ed IT staff are well aware of the increased cost of a diverse computing environment," said SystemExperts' Hill. "Although they usually embrace the idea of heterogeneity, the staff normally tries to minimize the diversity in order to control costs and have the resources to offer a reasonable level of support."

4. Separate Bad Apples (No Pun Intended).

BYOD doesn't stand for "bring your own (security) disaster." Higher-ed institutions have come up with ways to keep insecure systems from compromising the network and other devices on campus. "One strategy that many higher-ed sites have adopted is network segregation and quarantining devices that do not meet a minimum set of configuration requirements," said Hill. "Devices will typically be examined for operating system version, patch levels and antivirus controls before being admitted to the main network. Devices that don't conform are placed on a virtual network that only provides access to updates, antivirus installers and support to seek advice."

5. Use "Preventative Licensing" Strategies.

Universities and colleges have learned that it pays to spend money in key areas -- especially when the goal is mitigating the risk of a diverse mobile computing environment. "While not all higher-ed institutions can afford current operating system licenses to provide free upgrades for all personally owned devices, most institutions do bear the licensing costs to ensure that all personally owned devices can install and update the most recent virus-checking software for each supported platform," said Hill. "This cost of this preventative licensing is typically much less than the cost of tracking down and remediating compromised machines." 6. Separate Personal And Business Data.

Containerization and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) are being proposed to ensure the protection of company data in a BYOD model, and higher-ed institutions have shown that this can work. "Successfully separating personal information from organization-owned [intellectual property] enables universities to manage their information without affecting the employee or student's information," said ShoreTel's Roshan. "With similar boundaries in place, companies can remove business applications and data if the employee leaves the organization, without affecting the person's photos and applications. Some applications and approaches keep the data off the mobile device entirely. Or you can use a container approach, such as through mobile device management (MDM) software that keeps corporate information separate -- and where it can be appropriately secured."

7. Don't Skimp On Support

Although students and faculty might be bringing their own devices on campus, that doesn't mean they are on their own when it comes to support and security. That's the cost of keeping campus networks safe, said Deepak Jeevankumar, principal, General Catalyst Partners. "[Colleges and universities] provide a huge suite of software to make these devices more helpful -- antivirus, backup, etc.," he said.

8. Don't Skimp On Connectivity.

Another cost of BYOD is providing connections to the Internet. But as higher-ed institutions have learned, the better the connections the fewer the calls to IT for support and the higher the level of productivity, said Jeevankumar: "[Higher ed has] learned to deploy top-of-the-class Wi-Fi bandwidth, even in dense environments like big lecture halls, and they manage access controls very carefully in Wi-Fi environments." Jeevankumar added that many Fortune 500 corporations are afraid of Wi-Fi and do not provide wireless users with the same levels of access as wired-line users. Businesses will have to get over this fear factor if they want to effectively reap the benefits of BYOD, like the ones below.

9. Familiarity Breeds Productivity.

One of the key benefits of BYOD is that the owner of the device has tuned it to his or her liking and is intimately familiar with its features. This has proven fruitful in the education space, where instructors are freed to teach content instead of computers 101. "Familiarity with a device goes a long way," said Roshan. "In higher education, students are expected to utilize their own devices in the classroom, which helps reduce the technological learning curve and allows instructors to jump right into lessons without needing to extensively train the students on how to use the device. If businesses adopt BYOD, the same thinking would apply. Since employees would automatically be familiar with their personal devices, a company would have to invest less time in training, and the employees would automatically be more productive."

10. BYOD Provides Balance.

While there are some who worry that devices used for both work and play will unfairly infringe on users' personal lives, higher ed has shown that the BYOD model provides a level of flexibility that can benefit users. "With the uptake in virtual classrooms and online courses, universities are instituting BYOD programs to increase student engagement and performance," said Roshan. "Professors can reach students anytime, anywhere, and students can have access to information [while] off campus. A similar experience can be created in other organizations. Employees enjoy -- and often require -- the flexibility to work from anywhere, on any device. A solid BYOD program, similar to that of higher-education institutions, will help increase the work/life balance for employees while providing appealing productivity gains and cost savings for companies."

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

About the Author(s)

Debra Donston-Miller


Freelance writer Debra Donston-Miller was previously editor of eWEEK and executive editorial manager of eWEEK Labs. She can be reached at [email protected].

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