6 Key BYO Skills For SMB IT Pros

The bring-your-own era will change the skill set required to manage SMB IT environments. Here are the roles you'll need to embrace to survive.

Kevin Casey, Contributor

December 13, 2012

6 Min Read

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Here's a sign your IT skills might not be up to snuff in the bring-your-own-everything era: You say "no" a lot.

"We've seen this happen [in IT] throughout the years: The first response is always 'no' or 'you can't,'" said Matt Kaplan, VP of products at LogMeIn, in an interview. "[IT] didn't want anyone to use the Internet in the early days at work, because it wasn't secure or maybe wasn't productive."

Yet IT professionals seem well aware the BYO paradigm requires change. In a recent survey, 89% of IT decision makers and influencers working at small and midsize businesses (SMBs) said that a bring-your-own-application (BYOA) environment would force them to update their current skill set. The poll included more than 1,200 IT pros. Digging into their comments underscores what is beginning to seem obvious: By any acronym, BYO inspires a wide range of opinions -- from glowing to loathing -- on employees bringing their own devices and applications to work. But there appears to be one viewpoint moving toward consensus: Like it or not, BYO is rewriting the job description for many modern IT pros.

[ What do you think? Does BYOD Make Sense For SMBs? ]

Let's take a look six new roles and responsibilities you might need to shoulder to be successful in an BYO environment.

1. Become A Facilitator.

Once upon a time, IT was the technology source in corporate environments -- not only for the various tools employees used to do their jobs, but for all of the information about those tools, too. No more: BYO environments require IT pros to be facilitators more than gatekeepers. "You're not necessarily the smartest person in the room anymore when it comes to applications people are using," Kaplan said.

Facilitation requires getting out of the server closet and into the day-to-day business. A reluctance or flat-out refusal to do so might put you on the fast track to failure. "It's really important from a skills perspective to learn how to interact with individuals in the company, [learn] what applications they're using and how effective they are, and be able to facilitate sharing that information across the company," Kaplan said.

2. Get Out Of The Help Desk Business.

An upside of BYO -- one noted by a number of LogMeIn's survey respondents -- is the chance to shift out of a support-heavy role into a more strategic one. "IT will need to foster a decentralized support infrastructure where employees are actually helping each other because they have the best knowledge about their applications -- more knowledge than even the IT pros," Kaplan said. That's equal parts pragmatism and career strategy. There will be too many devices and apps to reasonably support, particularly with a small staff. And spending less time with troubleshooting and maintenance will free you up to add technology value elsewhere in the business.

3. Become An App Guru.

So maybe you're not guaranteed to be the smartest person in the room anymore when it comes to technology, but that doesn't mean you can't try. A skill that will help IT pros stand out in the cloud and mobile age is simply to be well-versed in what's out there -- what works well, what doesn't, and everything in between. That's a change from the days when an office might rely on a relatively small set of core applications and tools issued by the company and nothing else.

Sure, everyone's heard of Dropbox, but familiarity with a wider spectrum of applications across devices will help you reassert IT's role as an invaluable subject matter expert rather than a nagging naysayer. If it seems a bit overwhelming given the sheer volume involved, start with categories that you know are indispensable for your business users.

"Becoming an app guru is a challenge because there are so many different devices and so many different applications," Kaplan said. "But being in tune with the best productivity apps, as an example, would be a place to start. If IT can identify those applications that people are most likely to use in their environments, I think that's a very good first step."

4. Manage Identities Rather Than Devices Or Apps.

Kaplan believes that IT pros long accustomed to managing hardware and software will need to think in terms of managing identities in BYO environments. Among other reasons, there are simply too many devices and apps to feasibly keep tabs on. That task can become saner -- and theoretically more secure -- if each employee is assigned a single digital identity for accessing anything and everything he uses for work.

"What we see is the need to manage identity across devices and applications, and there are a number of companies out there creating [identity management] applications -- sort of like the next generation of Active Directory -- for the BYO and cloud-based era," Kaplan said. "It's the ability to control and manage the identity of the user, and make sure that I as an employee am keeping the identity secure."

5. Consider Multiple Meanings Of "Monitoring."

Traditional network and systems monitoring isn't likely to go away. In fact, it might be even be more critical in the BYO age. But IT pros from the CIO on down might need to begin considering new meanings of the word "monitoring." In particular, Kaplan advised "business-based monitoring," or keeping track of application usage from productivity and ROI standpoints, even when employees provision the tools themselves. That's all the more critical if the company reimburses those employee costs via expense reports or other means. "Monitoring is going to change from just classic monitoring of usage to 'hey, is this really providing an ROI for our business?'" Kaplan said. "I don't think anyone has really cracked the code on that yet."

6. Don't Worry, You Can Still Say "No."

If you love saying "no" to users, all is not lost. You still get to do so. Strategic BYO isn't a catch-all anarchy. It requires strong policy, education and enforcement. When you say no, let policy do the heavy lifting. It sounds straightforward, yet policy is one of those bureaucratic tools that's all too easy to ignore or put off. You can still prohibit employee use of certain devices or applications; you can even govern how they use approved technologies. Just use strong policy and training to do so rather than barking from behind the help desk.

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About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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