BlackBerry's BYOD blessing now a curse

Not too long ago, BlackBerrys were the go-to business tool. Revolutionary for their time, they provided two major benefits. Not only did they offer fresh communication potential that significantly altered the way that professionals work, but for the IT team, the BlackBerry made their lives a lot easier.
In more recent years, its major let down wasn’t that the company previously known as RIM’s rate of innovation was futile (though it didn’t do the company any favors). It was that BlackBerry was an expensive platform and essentially an IT tax on every connected employee.
It was a brilliant product strategy that generated revenue for RIM in a way no other BYOD solution has managed to duplicate. Initially a couple of geeks in IT - or more often ops - got RIM devices, which were then noticed by a techie senior exec.
That then drove executive adoption, and for that you wanted a BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Once the BES was in place, then you were a single solution organization -- RIM. Every new user bought hardware and a BES seat. Budget managers were forced to accept it.
Fast forward to 2008 when a few techies, often marketing people, started showing up with iPhone 3s. They were connected enough with a friendly IT admin to get Wi-Fi access. Techie execs saw them and said they wanted them too and “best of all,” said the first adopter, “you don’t need a BES server and I’ll pay for my own device”.
Once the budget king got wind of that, BlackBerry was done. Unfortunately, so were the days of easy device administration. Apple and Microsoft saw an opportunity and quickly worked together to make the iOS/Exchange Active Sync at least marginally useful to IT, allowing the budget office to counter the IT manageability argument. IT relented and opened some Guest SSIDs (service set identifiers).
As with any shiny new technology that changes the world in a rush, this has produced a growing problem for IT managers. Few organizations believe they have an adequate BYOD management plan and it’s further compounded by the ever-increasing MDM (mobile device management) problem that had already been an issue for some time.
In fact, in a recent SolarWinds-Network World survey, over 65% of IT organizations don’t feel confident that they have an adequate mobile device strategy in place.
Network and Systems admins work together as best they can to manage roving nodes, but most tools and techniques are limited to access control and bandwidth optimization.
Even assuming you get those under control, there remains a long list of other concerns, from how many devices will actually show up, to ever changing app traffic mix, network and application security risks and even potential HR issues from content accessed on the company provided guest-network.
So then, what can IT do today, to bring order to the chaos? First, get a handle on what’s connecting where with user device tracking software. It’s a switch port mapper for the mobile age.
Second, use your current network monitoring system’s traffic analyzer to make sure the BYOD secondary SSID/subnet isn’t hogging the bandwidth for notebooks and other corporate mobile devices.
Third, determine how various users and departments are using mobile devices today and what they want to do in the future. Make sure usage is compatible with your organisation's security policies.
The outlook for BYOD looks very bright, and with the rise of workforce mobility and personal preference, we desire to select our own mobile device of choice. For the majority of us, particularly in Singapore where smartphone ownership is 74% (according to the Ericsson ConsumerLab Mobile Lifestyle 2012 Report), our mobile device is the single object we interact with more than anything else.
With a bit of planning and the use of accessible monitoring and management technologies, organizations can resolve many of their current BYOD challenges. Who knows, one day we might even see a few BlackBerry Z10s playing nice on the same infrastructure as iOS and Androids.
Patrick Hubbard is senior technical product marketing manager and head geek at SolarWinds