The proper care and support of today's mobile worker

With a new balance between employee choice and business assurance, a different approach to management is critical

Today’s bring-your-own-device (BYOD) employee isn’t yesterday’s road warrior, so it’s time for businesses to put in place the structured support systems — policy, management, and application access — that align the expectations of the new corporate work style with its business priorities.

With more than half of employees paying for their mobile devices (and all or some of their data plans), and the lion's share opting for their device of choice rather than IT’s device of choice, the traditional notion of imposing operations based on standards and stability flies out the window.

The great influx of a diversity of mobile devices driven by the user is driving IT toward a more conditional approach to support — with IT retaining the right to control cost and security while developing a new set of policies that allows some freedom.

Consumerization is akin to the fashion business; in both, change is constant. Therefore, it makes sense that companies need to respond by being agile and adaptable, even to unprecedented events. “Businesses have to establish best practices that transition as the market transitions,” says Ken Dulaney, vice president for mobile computing research at Gartner.

Empowering this new breed of mobile worker and approach to work revolves around being proactive in the three key areas: policy, management, and application support.

Policies in the era of BYOD

Accept the fact that consumerization is driving businesses to rethink everything, particularly the balance of the relationship between IT and employees. Then it becomes clear why a “my way or the highway” corporate policy will not work.

Industry experts point to two aspects of policy to consider: provisioning and usage.

When it comes to the provisioning of devices, the good news is that with or without a BYOD stipend, employees are eager to retain the right to purchase their device of choice. A report from Good Technology found that half of the organizations surveyed with BYOD in place said employees covered costs for the device and data plan, while 25 percent of companies offered a stipend to encourage BYOD buy-in. A little encouragement apparently goes a long way, as a BYOD stipend bolstered adoption.

Industry experts agree that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to the provisioning of mobile devices. The two popular options are to have employees pick up all costs or to have the employee and company each pay a part (usually through a company stipend). Whichever option a business adopts, businesses should seize upon the willingness of employees to pay for some of all of their devices, service plans, and even apps, advises Ted Schadler, a principal analyst at Forrester Research.

The ideal route to consumerization at Nationwide Insurance, a company with 40,000 employees, is to keep BYOD cost-neutral. One-quarter of its employees are reimbursed for their device, and these users will receive reimbursement for a new smartphone of their choice when their current contract runs out. (These employees mostly have BlackBerrys, as that had been the corporate standard.) All other employees are free to purchase a device and data plan of their choice at their own expense and request access to the corporate network.

Today, about 4,000 employees at Nationwide — 3,500 smartphone users and 500 iPad users — use non-BlackBerry devices and are managed through the insurer’s mobile device management (MDM) platform, from Good Technology. Of those 4,000 users, more than 1,000 are self-provisioned BYOD users.

Policy around usage, or protecting the data, is every organization’s No. 1 concern. At Nationwide, users agree to usage terms when they sign up for BYOD. In the spirit of shared ownership, BYOD users must understand that the company has a business to run and retains the right to discontinue usage or wipe a device when necessary. Users must also use passwords and encryption. For some individuals or groups, business usage of BYOD devices may be prohibited; Nationwide disallows BYOD use by employees paid hourly and by employees subject to certain regulations.

Management in the era of BYOD

BYOD and MDM go hand in hand. It’s a key tool for the enterprise to track, monitor, and manage the mobile experience while securing business data and intellectual property. Gartner estimates that about 60 vendors offer MDM tools, about two dozen of which are viable for the enterprise.

Critical MDM capabilities that companies should look for in a product include support for device diversity, policy enforcement, security and compliance, containerization of applications and content, inventory management, software distribution, administration and reporting, and IT service management. It was these capabilities that Active Interest Media (AIM) sought out as the number of BYOD units climbed and concerns about corporate exposure grew. (AIM’s 400 employees in 12 offices produce magazines, consumer events, websites, and books.)

IT executives must remember that although tools are important, it’s critical that the policies they execute make sense for both the company and the user. In other words, if you lock down too much or impose too many limitations, you’re guaranteed to get user pushback and workarounds.

Done right, consumerization fosters a new relationship between the employee and IT and the employee and the business — one that is more equitable and adult. Empowered employees are a business’s best friend. A recent Forrester report, “How Consumerization Drives Innovation,” concludes that empowerment does in fact drive innovation. These self-taught experts not only know how to use smartphones, tablets, and Web apps like Google Docs and Dropbox, they know what they’re good for and how they can help the business. And they’re willing to do just that. Furthermore, the research shows empowered employees improve work processes and productivity.

No one says it’s going to be easy to transform the status quo, but it is possible — and attitude is everything. “Initially when the concept [of consumerization] came up, it was very uncomfortable. What we’ve learned is that the process of change is iterative and doesn’t have to be 100 percent anymore. It has to be acceptable,” says Bob Burkhart, director of new technology innovation at Nationwide.

Applications in the era of BYOD

In this new reality, a smartphone is just a little PC, simply another endpoint. Like a PC, much of its value comes from its ability to run apps. “Empowerment is about access to applications and content from a device of choice,” says Forrester’s Schadler.

That means a business will now have a mix of IT-led “back end” apps and employee-driven “front end” apps — not the traditional IT-managed portfolio. That said, companies have to make choices about mobile applications and explore the use case for each. Also up for review are the core applications users want to access on their mobile devices — email and collaboration, Web apps, an employee portal, content or files, and enterprise business apps such as CRM and data dashboards, for example.

After the “what” question is the “how” question: Should companies build their own enterprise mobile applications or use off-the-shelf applications from third-party marketplaces? It’s likely a mix of both — and an understanding that in some cases, individual users can make those decisions themselves.

For example, International SOS, a company that provides medical assistance and security services to organizations, is developing a mobile app for a credentialing process used by 60 staff members who visit hospitals and doctors around the world. The application already existed for laptops but now is being ported to the iPad and Android OS.

The company is also amenable to using off-the-shelf clinical support applications, for which there’s a healthy and growing market. “We’ll add a proprietary piece and re-create the front end,” says Tim Daniels, executive vice president at the company.

Application delivery to BYOD employees is another frontier to companies need to explore. Borrowing from the consumerization trend, BYOD employees are not only familiar with but also fond of the app store model for accessing apps. That’s why large companies, like IBM and GE, build their own app stores to deliver custom apps and recommended commercial apps to their employees.

But for most companies, it’s still early in the game to be thinking about private app stores — the first step, after all, is to develop the enterprise mobile apps you need and figure out how to deal with the apps that users buy, such as to manage information access and flow. The tools for addressing these issues are still nascent.

In the new consumerization context, the key to empowering mobility is creating a flexible organization and learning to roll with the punches that come with enterprise mobility. Policies and management — both human and technical — are the means to getting there.

This article, "The proper care and support of today's mobile worker," was originally published at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.