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Ground Rules For Mobilizing Users

Last week, I discussed rolling user-owned mobile devices into your mobility plans. While letting the users pay for their own wireless access may be a boon to the company's bottom line, it can also snowball into a nightmare for administrators dealing with supporting a slew of new devices.  A little advanced work and planning can help thwart the dark side of mobility: the threat of unending calls to help desk, security threats and general chaos. First and foremost, you'll need to set some ground rules.

On the top of the list should be defining the limits of IT support. All too often, end-users assume that it is IT's role to make every piece of technology they possess work. Don't believe me? Just try to find an IT professional who hasn't been asked to fix a co-worker's home computer. It has to be made very clear to users that IT makes no guarantees that connecting a mobile device to corporate email will work, but that they will do what they can to help the users succeed. Building up an archive of support documents and laying out the exact process needed to connect a given mobile device will go a long way in guiding all but the most technically-challenged users in getting and staying connected. If your IT staff does not have access to these mobile devices and your budget doesn't allow bringing a few in house, ask your users. There are no doubt a few folks within your organization who would be willing to trade a little time documenting and taking screen shots for early mobile access.

The second rule applies to the devices themselves, and how many are allowed to connect. Microsoft Exchange allows a virtually unlimited number of mobile devices to connect to a user's mailbox via Server Activesync. While this may thrill the gadget-happy users that want to have their entire collection of iPhones, iPads and Android devices linked to their mail, multiple devices compounds the threat of one of them being stolen or lost.

Furthermore, administrators need to make it clear that "jailbreaking" or "rooting" devices, a process which opens up these devices to third party applications  and networks, is expressly forbidden. While it may be attractive for users to "free up their devices", it opens up brand new security threats.  In fact, there have already been rogue applications that have made their way through these liberated devices. Another side effect of jailbreaking is that there is typically a lag between official releases and the broken versions, meaning users are waiting to apply the known security fixes of the official releases.

If despite your best efforts, the chaos of mobility gets to be too much, there are a number of products out there that can bring provide a level of visibility and control. Vendors like MobileIron, zenprise, iPass and Fiberlink are building tools, appliances and services that can bring visibility, control and a number of self-service options to mobile devices.  As the paradigms of mobility continue to evolve, look for companies like these, as well as additional offerings from both traditional enterprise vendors and the wireless carriers to make the dark side of mobility a little brighter.