5 admin must-dos to support mobile workers

Rise of enterprise mobility and bring-your-own device use in firms requires rethinking of IT managers' role and responsibilities in supporting mobile workers, experts say.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Working on-the-go is becoming even more prevalent, and with bring-your-own (BYO) device uptake on the rise as well, IT administrators need to reassess their role--both in technical and non-technical aspects--in supporting their company's mobile workforce and assortment of user devices, say industry experts.

There is a continued trend toward non-traditional work offices where the role being performed does not require the individual to be centrally located, said Carol Sormilic, IBM's vice president of global workforce and Web process enablement. Big Blue's workforce has been mobile since mid-1990s and approximately half of the company's global headcount today is mobile.

Sormilic noted that while the concept of the mobile worker is not new to the organization, what is new is supporting employees who want to bring their own devices such as laptops, tablets or smartphones, which may run on alternate platforms, to the office.

"This requires our current tools and services to be extended, enhanced, and in some cases, rebuilt for the BYO device paradigm that we're seeing," she told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

Trent Mayberry, managing director of Accenture's Asean technology group platform, added that as mobile devices shift from being a secondary access channel to the primary access point, organizations will not only have to provide support for mobiles, but also rethink their business processes.

As a result, the role of the IT administrator in a mobile empowered workforce will be vital and also a specialized one, combining IT support, expense management and security policy development and enforcement, said Jonathan Marshall, global portfolio director of mobility at CSC.

The industry experts outlined five must-dos or must-haves IT administrators should look at when supporting and managing their company's mobile workforce and user devices.

1. Be mentally prepared to give greater support.
One key element in supporting remote users with mobile devices is the "fundamental acceptance" and planning for the unexpected, said Marshall. Remote devices are more susceptible to damage, abuse, loss and exposure to hostile environments and substances than other typical IT equipment.

He noted that IT administrators must realize that remote workers often have different priorities and time pressures, and when a mobile worker needs help with a device or application while out in the field, this can result in significant cost from the downtime.

So they should be prepared and plan for situations which ordinarily would not happen to less-mobile equipment, and be ready to give a higher level of support to the mobile user, he advised. This is critical since mobile workers cannot work if impacted, Marshall explained, noting that these users are more reliant on their mobile data and apps than fixed users and are prone to the vagaries of communication when on the go.

2. Have multi-factored security management and policies.
Mayberry said IT administrators should accept that they cannot have full control over their users' devices. Hence, they need to adopt multi-factored security management, from monitoring, protecting and supporting the various devices.

Monitoring involves determining which devices are connected to the network and verifying that the organization's various corporate policies are observed, he said. Protection measures can include data encryption, audited access, remote device management and enforced device lock, to ensure that corporate data and corporate IP (intellectual property) are safe from attacks, he elaborated.

Marshall agreed, adding that security is one of the most important elements for IT administrators. "The potential to have gigabytes of data wandering the globe should never be underestimated," he warned.

He recommended that IT administrators ensure they have a robust suite of security policies which enforce good practice as well as provide remediation process in the event of breaches. For instance, besides data encryption and remote lock-and-wipe capabilities, IT managers can also implement a policy that allows only a minimum amount of data to reside on a mobile device at any one time.

Sormilic similarly stressed the need to ensure the device is managed according to enterprise-level security requirements, from password complexity to malware detection, he added. Without such device management, IT administrators will "have no ability to, for example, deploy specific applications to device fleet". "It will be manual with a lot of work needed and with all consequent support burden that it will bring," she said.

3. Communicate to mobile users their share of accountability.
Sormilic also noted that IT administrators must ensure their mobile colleagues understand their own obligations and responsibilities, and adhere to the company's security and information policies, particularly if they use their own devices such as mobile phones. "Just because it's a smartphone does not mean this is no longer the case," she said.

There needs to be an agreement from the user to allow the enterprise to apply the security policies to the device, she noted.

Mayberry added that there should be a clear set of safe use policies, particularly regarding a BYO device policy that explains expectations, usage guidelines and protection of corporate assets.

The ownership of mobile devics here is a "grey area", Marshall highlighted. IT administrators must have a policy and a view of liability, and where lines need to be drawn between acceptable use in a business context while allowing personal devices to hold personal data, he said.

Clear guidelines--for which human resources can also be involved--should be drawn up to protect both the individual and the organization, Marshall said. For instance, organizations need to establish which party will be liable for replacement cost if an employee who uses his own device loses it while on a work trip.

4. Remember that going mobile is ultimately about achieving business capability.
Marshall pointed out that there is increasing tendency to "mobile-enable" business applications by simply creating a Web interface with a mobile screen size. "This may suffice in many instances, but misses the point of mobility," he said.

When designing mobile applications, IT administrators need to ensure they do not overlook the opportunity to redesign business processes and procedures to take full advantage of the potential of mobility. The potential here is to fundamentally reorganize and restructure business processes and tasks to remove the human latency factor, by pushing and pulling information from people whenever or wherever they are. This will deliver improved productivity which, in turn, benefits the whole organization, he explained.

Sormilic agreed: "The real reason for supporting enterprise mobility is to be able to project business capability onto devices and improve enterprise productivity."

However, she acknowledged that getting the company's business applications and process onto many different device platforms would not be an easy task. It could require significant redesign and recoding, as well as significant amounts of infrastructure and services that allow the business critical applications to be enabled for mobile devices. Hence, she dished out another advice: do not underestimate the amount of work involved.

5. Enlist users' feedback, involvement.
Sormilic reminded that mobile users are the best source of figuring out what does and does not work for a particular situation. "Once the basic [requirements] are satisfied, there will be a large number of requests for other capabilities. Use this feedback for prioritization of follow-on capabilities," she recommended.

Mayberry added that IT administrators should encourage mobile users to share their finds and needs, rather than try to restrict access to consumer devices--which may increase resentment and circumvention.

He suggested IT administrators consider creating a sandbox to trial new technologies and quarantine them from approved environments until ready. The whole point is that mobile users need to "feel that IT helps them and is not an obstacle to access", he said.

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