The trials and tribulations of BYOD at Cisco

Network giant Cisco has managed to save 25 percent per user in costs by shifting to a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model, but the journey has many obstacles.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Since implementing a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model, starting with mobile phones in 2009, network giant Cisco has managed to lower the costs per staff member by 25 percent.

Prior to 2009, Cisco had a very traditional corporate model for devices, with staff issued with BlackBerry devices, the company's program manager of IT mobility services Evan Parthenis told the Cisco Live conference in Melbourne on Thursday.

But the company shifted its policy to allow staff to begin accessing email, contacts, and calendar via the iPhone in 2009. By 2012, Cisco had added virtualisation as an option for staff who needed to access their desktop from any device in any location.

"Believe it or not, there are people that want to use Windows 7 on their iPad," he said.

This year, the company is looking to go one step farther, and launch bring your own laptop for certain staff members.

To date, the company has 43,821 employees using BYOD, with 59,141 personally owned devices in the company every day. Parthenis said that one third of the company's devices are personally owned by staff, but that there will never be a point where the company would reach 100 percent of devices being personally owned.

Cisco had considered giving employees cash to buy their own devices, but Parthenis said it had decided against this in Australia because of the tax associated with it.

"If you want to give an employee AU$1,000 to buy a laptop, that could cost you up to AU$1,600 because it is considered a fringe benefit," he said. "That's a path we've decided not to go down purely because of those tax implications."

Between January 2011 and January 2013, the company added 82 percent more devices to its fleet, with 28 percent more users. Data usage doubled, there were 33 percent fewer IT help desk cases lodged, 28 percent higher satisfaction amongst users, and 25 percent lower cost per user.

For mobile phones, Cisco has negotiated with the telcos to provide handsets on plans, and Parthenis admitted that the onset of long-term evolution (LTE) or 4G devices with faster download speeds have offered the company a challenge it hasn't resolved yet.

"LTE is a huge challenge for us. We're in very active negotiations with all our telco providers on how to manage that," he said. "Software that can control LTE usage [is] something we're considering."

Parthenis said organisations need to not think of just making it about the device, or the operating system, but about the services being delivered to that device, the user, and what the user needs to get done on that device.

"Don't try and do something to try and target every user in your organisation," he said. "Have a common set of use cases within your organisation that you can then target services to."

Within Cisco, the company divided its employees into five categories:

  1. Workstation-anchored staff, such as call centre employees or receptionists, who work in the office and don't need remote access

  2. Local collaborators, which make up the majority of Cisco employees, who need some mobility and do some work from home, but the majority of their work in the office

  3. Remote workers who don't work in the office at all

  4. Highly mobile staff that spends very little time in the office, such as the sales team and executive team

  5. Offsite people who may not work for the company, but do need some connectivity.

For the workstation staff, they were given a Windows 7 desktop via a Cisco VXI endpoint. Offsite users were given remote access with VXI endpoints, too. Local collaborators, remote workers, and highly mobile staff were targeted for BYOD.

Another advantage that Cisco discovered with BYOD was that as Cisco acquires new companies, where it would usually take a year to integrate the acquired company's technology into Cisco, BYOD allows the existing employees to keep their devices and use it to log in to Cisco's network.

And through shifting from just backing up all desktop content to a cloud content virtualisation model, Parthenis said Cisco is already expecting to make a 10 percent year-on-year saving.

"It's not huge, but it is definitely enough to generate the interest of executives," he said.

It was important to get policy right, though, he said, in order to generate those savings. Cisco originally allowed any staff member to sign up for a virtual desktop interface (VDI) account, which was costing the company money, but some staff members were just using a VDI account to access Outlook from their iPads.

He said that Cisco also set about bringing in minimum requirements for devices, both in terms of capability and security.

"You don't want someone coming in with a Windows 2000 device that doesn't have virus scanning, because that is going to cause problems in your organisation," he said.

Cisco users also need to agree that the IT department can remote wipe their device completely at any point; the device must meet password requirements with a 10-minute timeout; and if staff members lose the device, they must call Cisco immediately.

"We wanted users to understand what their obligations were, and we really wanted to balance the trust," he said.

Part of the trust was also to build a social support model, with a Wikipedia-style page where staff members can go and help each other with smaller IT help desk issues that can be escalated if they need to be.

Parthenis said that organisations cannot fight BYOD. Before Cisco began considering BYO laptops, a quick survey of the organisation revealed that there were already 6,000 laptops that staff had brought in from home and imaged to work on the company's network.

"At the time, it was because we didn't offer the MacBook Air," he said. "If anyone thinks that there isn't going to be 'bring your own device' in your organisation, there probably already is."

Parthenis said that by being an enabler of BYOD, IT departments get more control and visibility.

"Instead of being the policeman saying no, be the IT department saying, 'we're here to help'."

Josh Taylor travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Cisco.

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