Archive for the ‘mobile computing’ Category

All the rage

August 20, 2012

Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) has become somewhat of a buzzword. With the push generally coming from the top, namely Senior Management and C-executives, there is a lot of pressure on IT to accommodate for the use of smartphones and tablets for work purposes. However, integrating new devices within the business environment is not all easy and straightforward, from an IT point of view.

Before allowing BYOD there needs to be a lot of planning, especially to insure the appropriate level of security. What end users sometimes fail to understand is that with the introduction of personal smartphones and tablets, the security of information which pass through these devices is at risk. These devices can be more easily hacked compared with a company-approved laptop, and they can be stolen or lost. Although there are some measures to wipe data off a device remotely after it has been lost or stolen, there is still the risk that information has already been seen, copied and used for fraudulent activities. Breaching the Data Protection Act will result in hefty fines that can put pressure on the company’s financial position, and it may also damage the most important thing – its reputation.

A BYOD policy will also create new issues for the IT Service Desk. IT engineers who are not familiar with these devices and the operating system they are working on will have to get some training, or more often than not, self-train in order to be able to support them. It takes time to learn new things and create knowledge-based documents for everyone to learn from, and the initial unfamiliarity with the systems might slow down incident resolution rates. Analysts might also get a number of calls regarding things that are out of their remit, such as ‘How do you turn this thing on?’ or ‘I need to download this app…’. All these things will affect the level of service and therefore any metrics, Key Performance Indicators or Service Level Agreements will have to take this into account.

On the bright side, this is also a good opportunity for IT staff to learn and practise new skills, get to know new systems and make their work more varied. It will ultimately increase their expertise and value.

Generally speaking, it is a good idea to introduce BYOD slowly by starting from one feature in particular. For instance, at the company where I am working in a managed service environment, it was only applicable to email on iPhones and iPads. Documents can be read and sent but not saved or modified on the device. Now that this project has been rolled out, gone live and is running smoothly, we are planning to allow document editing on the devices, once we have come to terms with the security concerns.

Companies shouldn’t avoid BYOD policies just because of the technical complexity or security issues involved. The advantages they can enjoy may outweigh those: BYOD creates savings, as less company-approved phones and laptops have to be purchased for employees; increases productivity as professionals are able to easily work on-the-move and while they are away from their office, for instance visiting a client’s site; and gives employees the chance to take on emergency work and answer urgent emails at any time of day and night and from anywhere.

Why is it that certain sectors are so attracted to the prospect of being able to use their own devices for work? In the financial sector in particular, it is not difficult to guess – so many professionals work nearly 24/7, hardly ever switching off. Their personal and professional lives are intertwined and it is a nuisance for them to have to carry around: a personal mobile phone for personal and work-related calls; a work mobile phone to check emails on-the-go; a company-approved laptop to work from a different office or the train; their personal tablet to show clients presentations. If they can have all-in-one on their personal phone or light-weight and easy-to-carry tablet, it makes life much easier for them.

In the future, BYOD is likely to increase, and we might see some environments entirely populated by employee-owned devices, though this is more likely to happen in start-ups and small organisations rather than medium and large-sized companies. There is also an argument that BYOD is driving Cloud services, as the latter represent a more secure way to manage data without taking the risk of saving it onto devices that can be stolen, lost and hacked.

All in all, BYOD can bring many benefits, but needs careful planning and security measures to be adopted correctly. A policy where employees can use their own devices for work purposes should serve as a way to improve productivity. It shouldn’t be an excuse for people to shun secure and approved devices and use expensive and sexy new gadgets just for the sake of being on trend, putting security and efficiency at risk.

Nick Fenton, Team Leader
This article has appeared in the July/August edition of FSTech – Financial Sector Technology:


BYOD brings on new issues and chances for IT Support staff

August 10, 2012

With growing pressure on the IT Service Desk to allow the use of tablets and smartphones for work purposes, it is important to understand how this will affect the IT Support function and the metrics used to evaluate its efficiency.

Perhaps surprisingly, demand for Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) tends to come from Senior Management and C-executives rather than from the more tech-savvy ‘Generation-Y’. These types of users are strongly attracted by new devices and find it easier to work directly from their personal equipment rather than carry around a corporate-approved laptop and phone.

But end users are sometimes unaware of the technical and security issues involved in a BYOD policy.  First of all, if their expensive smartphones and devices are stolen, lost or hacked, the information stored on or accessible through them is at risk, which could result in hefty fines and loss of reputation in the case of a Data Security Breach.

Secondly, BYOD can create new issues for the IT Service Desk. There may be an increase in the number of incidents IT staff will have to deal with, as engineers might not be familiar with the devices and could require additional training. Also, analysts might have to deal with a number of calls that aren’t necessarily relevant to their role, but they are still expected to answer, such as how to download an app or change the ringtone.

These issues will potentially slow down incident resolution and increase the volume of incidents, affecting service levels and therefore any Key Performance Indicators or Service Level Agreements that are in place.

Of course there are also advantages to BYOD: IT analysts can enjoy a more varied environment and get the chance to learn something new. The newly acquired skills will add to their experience, making them more valuable as professionals.

Nick Fenton, Team Leader

This piece appeared in the Summer edition of IT PRO Quarterly Report

Disaster recovery and the mobile office

April 27, 2012

As we are all aware, today’s working culture has moved on from the traditional old 9 to 5 office work to a new concept where people are working flexible hours from flexible locations. As a consequence, both employers and employees expect more – in particular, the ability to work seamlessly from any device and from any location.

Technology advancements in telephony, collaboration tools, virtualisation, security and application and desktop delivery have enabled the ‘mobile office’ concept to be embraced faster than a speeding freight train. Adoption is also driven by the many benefits achievable through this solution – for instance, basing some staff at home can be used to reduce building and office related costs.

Relocating employees to work from their own desks using their own utilities can not only provide many financial benefits, but also allow avoiding issues such as transportation strikes and weather disasters, or the much-anticipated chaos during the Olympics and Paralympics.

But more strategically, when it comes to disaster recovery and business continuity planning, more and more companies are choosing to utilise the mobile or home office concept as a significant and vital recovery tactic. Dedicated workplace recovery services can be costly, and placing technology services at a designated workplace recovery suite will have an additional financial impact.

Similarly, if a company has multiple offices and the continuity plan states that a number of staff must relocate, for example, from the London office to the Birmingham office, then that number desks must be either kept available, which is costly, or the existing staff displaced, with a loss of function or productivity. Then, there is also the matter of a number of PCs to configure as well as the setting up of telephones and other equipment.

Basing or rotating technical support or business support functions at home can be a huge advantage when faced with a business continuity scenario. Home-based workers are less likely to be affected by denial of access issues such as high profile terrorist targets or threats, major city power failures, office fires or flooding. The first members of staff ready and waiting for services to be brought online to be able to work during an invocation are the home-based employees.

It is not all easy and straightforward, though: all devices used by mobile and home workers – mainly laptops, smartphones and tablets – have to be managed properly and securely by the company.

Policies, technology and management tools must be in place to block users from saving or transferring harmful data onto devices, and also to maintain client confidentiality and adhere to Data Protection regulations as well as contractual obligations to customers, whilst still allowing staff to seamlessly access applications and data stored within the corporate network.

The tools already exist to support businesses to remotely manage, secure or wipe devices, remotely activate device services, and to create and manage their own security policies – whether those policies are corporate ‘end-user acceptable use’ policies, or technology enforcing policies such as disallowing ‘Copy & Paste’ between devices or disabling printing or screen capture.

Fortunately, thanks to new technologies and industry best practices, the tools to achieve business continuity and to make a full recovery after a serious incident are all quite easily available. If the company’s disaster recovery and business continuity plan covers the mobile office service as well as any physical offices, the chances of a successful recovery and return to ‘business as usual’ are vastly improved. Moreover, there may be an advantage to be won over competitors going through the same issues, as well as reputational and credibility gains.

The key to any mobile office solution is resiliency and planning. It is vital that considerable thought, planning and design for the mobile office service is placed at the forefront of any disaster recovery environment and business continuity plan, to provide resiliency and contingency for the mobile and home-based workers in the event of technology failure, office inaccessibility or other unplanned incidents, as these employees may be the key to providing rapid continuation of business services in the most productive, seamless and cost-effective manner.

Jennifer Norman, Technical Consultant

This article was written for Contingency Today:

Does the future of business mobile computing lie in hybrid tablet devices?

September 28, 2010

As a legion of hybrid laptop/tablet devices are thrown into the market, riding the wave of the trendy but not-so-business-friendly iPad whilst trying to overcome its limitations in a bid to conquer a place in the corporate world, a few thoughts come to mind as a reflection on the future of business mobile computing.

Tablets in their pure and hybrid forms have been around for several years, but it is only recently that they have reached some sort of success thanks to the right marketing, targeting and perhaps timing. Perhaps they could only be accepted as the natural successor to smartphones and e-readers, and had to hit the gadget-thirsty consumer market before they could be introduced in a corporate environment.

However, tablets like the iPad aren’t specifically built for work. Apart from the security issues that are still to be fully assessed, there are some technical aspects which makes this device unfit for business in its present form. Its touch-screen technology is not ideal for writing long documents and emails, for instance, and the attachable keyboard is an extra expense and an extra item to carry around, making it less comfortable than a normal laptop. Another issue is that the screen does not stand on its own. To write on it, the device has to be held with one hand, leaving only one hand free to type, or placed horizontally on a surface or one’s lap, an unusual position which makes it harder to compose long texts. A holder can be purchased, but at an extra cost. It must be said that consumers of mobile computing are not eager to carry around extra detachable parts. That’s what mobile computing is all about – compact and lightweight devices to access resources from different places or while travelling.

The latest hybrids launched on the market try to overcome these issues, for instance keeping the laptop’s two-piece, foldable, all-in-one appearance and merging it with the touchscreen concept introduced by tablets. For instance, Dell is launching a 10-inch hybrid Netbook/Tablet device where the screen can be rotated to face upwards before closing the machine, so that whilst the keyboard disappears it remains on the upper surface, appearing exactly like a Tablet. Toshiba’s Libretto, instead, is an even smaller device (7 inches) that looks like a normal mini-netbook but is composed of two screens with touch-screen technology. One screen can be used for input and the other for displaying information, but they can also be used together as a double-screen, for example to read a newspaper the ‘traditional’ way.

Although the two hybrids both show an effort to meet market requirements for a marketable device – small and fast, easy to carry around, one-piece, foldable, able to stand on its own, touchscreen – this still doesn’t make them ideal and safe for work. It is possible that they become popular among a niche of professionals to whom the design and some of their functionalities may appeal, but it is highly unlikely that they will replace traditional laptops in the IT department or in organisations where IT needs to be efficient and extremely safe.

First of all, the capacity and speed of these devices is limited, and so is the screen size. Furthermore, although the touch-screen technology may probably become the way forward at some point in the future, at the moment it is not advanced enough to make it better than a traditional keyboard. When typing on a touchscreen there is no tactile response at the fingertips, hence it is necessary to keep glancing at one’s fingers to be sure you are hitting the right keys. Finally, the risk of a ‘cool’ device is that it is an easy target for theft, which can represent a risk to the business from a data protection point of view especially if the device does not allow a sufficient level of security or has some faults to due its newness.

Although the mass of tech-crazy professionals that populate organisations in all sectors are looking more and more for a one-for-all device, it is unlikely that this becomes the mainstream solution. It is more likely that people will have a travel-size device for their free time or when they are on the go, a smartphone for calls and quick email checking and a super-safe and bulky laptop for work.

The problem, here, will be how to access the same resources from the various devices without having to transfer and save all the documents and applications onto all of them. This could be overcome with desktop virtualisation which makes a user’s desktop and resources reachable from any device and anywhere in the world – abroad, home or on a train. Unfortunately this requires a reliable, strong and stable internet connection which at present is still not available everywhere, and especially not outside homes and offices.

As for the far future, portable devices will probably be very different from what we are used to – they will be as thin as a sheet of paper, with touchscreen technology that is more advanced than the one at present, and users will be able to roll them away and carry them in a pocket. The projected keyboard might become popular as well – although it already exists, consumers are still not embracing this new way of inputting information but this might change with time.

In fact, the future of computing is not only determined by technological developments. Adoption in the mainstream culture is essential and it can only happen when consumers are ready to accept variants of what they are used to. It is only through a cultural change that things can really progress onto new forms and it is through the choices and preferences of the new consumer/professional figure that the future of mobile computer will ultimately be determined.

Will Rodbard, Senior Consultant

Find this article on Business Computing World: