Universities know BYOD

September 8, 2013 Leave a comment

In July 2013, Acronis released the results of a study which highlighted that 60% of companies “had no personal device policy in place” and 80% of organizations “haven’t educated employees on BYOD privacy risks”.  BYOD or Bring Your Own Device, is a phenomenon, where employees want to use their own personal devices (such as smartphones, tablets, or laptops) for business purposes and to access business data resources.

Later this month, I have the opportunity to speak to attendees of the IT Roadmap Conference & Expo when it makes a stop in Dallas/Fort Worth.  I will be speaking on the topic of Mobility & BYOD, and as I told the folks who were vetting me for this speaking engagement, BYOD is old hat for higher education IT departments.  I made this statement, because universities have been dealing with students bring their own devices to campus , since universities began providing network connectivity in residence halls.  In a August 2013, CITE World (Consumerizaiton of IT in the Enteprise) article titled “Want BYOD advice? Talk to a university IT department,” my position was affirmed by Mike Corn, chief privacy and security officer at the University of Illinois (UI) at Urbana-Champaign.

However, Mr Corn concedes that higher education institutions and corporations aren’t necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison.  While I’ll agree that universities don’t have the same regulatory requirements as some corporations, I believe we all are wrestling with ways to intentionally leverage personal owned mobile computing devices for business purposes.  For universities, the business purpose is educating students, and many institutions struggle to understand how mobile devices can be used in meaningful ways to enhance the academic success of their students.  In my opinion, BYOD isn’t about the devices accessing networks.  The center of the conversation is about business processes and how these devices can be intentionally engaged to enable business professionals or students to be effective and productive.  This concern is an apples-to-apples comparison, and many universities have made significant strides to engage personally owned devices into teaching and learning.  For this reason, I am a believer that higher education has some expertise related to the BYOD strategies.


Hurdles in Accepting a Vendor as a Partner

September 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Back in June, I had the opportunity to attend Dell’s Enterprise Forum in San Jose, California.  This multi-day event feature sessions and keynotes centered around Dell’s Networking, Storage, & Server portfolio.  One of the highlights was a customer success session with Amerijet‘s Senior Director-Technology and Information Systems, Jennifer Torlone.  Jennifer spoke on the challenges and oppprtunities she faced when joining Amerijet and the successes found in establishing and leveraging a partnership with Dell.

As I sat in the audience, listening to Jennifer, I wondered about my own organization’s experience with partners and vendors.  I would contend that many organizations have many vendors, but partners are typically few in number.  Often the delineation is deliberate, and focused on vendors and/or suppliers that are willing to provide additional value beyond products and services.

In the midst of this Jennifer’s presentation, I also wondered about the hurdles associated with elevating a vendor to a partner.  At this point, Jennifer offered a nugget that caught me off guard.  Jennifer explained how what ever business problem arises, she takes this problem to her partners and invites them to participate in the process of finding a solution.  She went on to say that she doesn’t attempt to filter the problem or select the partner that receives the information.  She commented that if the company is a partner, then they should have a seat at the table.

This idea was insightful and revolutionary in my opinion.  Part of the surprise comes from my own bias and understanding which has functioned as a filter and dictated which company I present business problems to.  Her point was simple, you may think you know how to solve the problem, but any partner may have more resources and sub-divisions that could potentially trump any preconceived notion you might have.  In short, I may be short changing the partnership.  I may be the hindrance that has limited the impact and success of the partnership.

I returned from this trip inspired to re-evaluate how I interact with vendors and partners.  I recognize there are risks associated with such an approach, but at the same time there may be big wins that aren’t being capitalized on.  My preference would be to acknowledged to facilitating a win versus passing up an opportunity because I didn’t think a vendor or partner could address the problem.

Consumerization – Video Conferencing

iPhone Call Options

Many of the technology conferences I’ve attended in the last couple of years has referenced the term “consumerization”.  Essentially this term references a phenomenon or trend where products and services  tailored for the consumer market are being leveraged by businesses or enterprises.    Examples of “consumerization” include the use of smartphones by employees to conduct business or the use of file services like dropbox to share business documents.  For some, this trend is troubling as they reference the lack of sensitivity to governance and security associated with business, which isn’t as applicable within the consumer space.  While I recognize the tension of governance and control, I do believe that in the last ten to fifteen years we have seen a dramatic shift associated with innovation.  It used to be that business markets was where innovation occurred and these innovations would trickle into the consumer markets.  Today, it would appear that this trend has been flipped, and as such we now see business professionals bring innovations that first appeared in the consumer spaces into the enterprise.

One example of this would be in the area of video conferencing.  Back in the late 1990’s video conferencing was regulated to the domains of large businesses that could afford to outfit rooms with high dollar camera equipment and expensive data circuits that crossed the country.  Today video conferencing can be achieved with consumer services like Skype and Google Hangouts.  Even Apple’s OSX and  iOS devices can accomplish video conferencing with its FaceTime app.  These innovations in the consumer market related to video conferencing, has placed some interesting tension on enterprises.  I’m confident many Chief Information Officers and Information Technology Directors are being questioned why their employees can FaceTime an individual in the next room or across the country, but the business doesn’t have a convenient way to deploy similar technology as an IT service.

To quantify this trend, in October 2010 a report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicated that 19% of Americans had tried “video calling” either online or from their cell phone.  In July 2011, an infographic published on Skype’s Big Blog indicated that video calls accounted for 300 million minutes each day or 42% of all Skype minutes a day.    Finally an analyst with IDC projected that by 2015, 46% of U.S. households would be using video calling services.  The pressure these consumer trends have on the enterprise market is well articulated by a blog post on the PGIblog that indicates in 2013 “75% of enterprises are predicted to use video conferencing”.  For this to come true, many enterprises will need to wrestle with the goals they are looking to achieve with video conferencing.


February 9, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking about this disruption that mobility offers, more specifically about whether or not individuals need multiple computing devices.  With the tablets gaining traction thanks to affordable price points, and synching technologies that mare positioned to make your data ever more accessible, I wonder whether or not we are observing a shift in the computing platforms and as such a reduction in the number of platforms that each individual owns.

To satisfy this curiosity, I turned to data collected from the Network Control System for my university.  This system has over 16,000 unique devices that are registered to over 5,000 users.  This suggests that the average person has three devices registered in this system.  But what it doesn’t say is what these devices are.  So I drilled down deeper, to get a better since of what the distribution of devices per user is.  Looking at the number of actual devices registered per user reveals …

  • 21% of the users only have one device registered
  • 38% of the users have two devices registered
  • 24% of the users have three devices registered
  • 17% of the users have four or more devices registered

Drilling even further I identified that of those users who have only one device registered, 29% of these devices are laptops, but 37% are mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets.  This is pretty interesting.

However when we look at the group of users who have registered two devices, 76% of these users have registered an iPhone and a laptop.  When we look at the group that have registered three devices, 85% of these users have an iPhone and a laptop included in this three device total.  So what do these numbers tell us?

For me it suggests that we are not yet at a point that we can condense our computing platform to a single device.  Even though smartphone manufactures have devised methods to decrease the dependencies of tethering smartphones to laptops, the average user recognizes that each platform has unique strengths and weaknesses.  So while we may be able to disconnect our smartphones or tablets from our laptops, it appears that we still need each for different purposes or reasons.


February 3, 2012 Leave a comment


Yesterday I ran across the following article that unpacks the results of a TripAdvisor survey revealing that WiFi or Wireless Broadband connectivity is the top amenity that travelers are looking for when booking a hotel.  In fact, WiFi outranked amenities such as Breakfast, Loyalty programs, an onsite restaurant, and airport shuttle service.

In the Fall of 2011, Educause released the an Info Graphic that details the results of their 2011 National Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology.  In this Info Graphic, I found interesting that 78% of undergraduate students reported that WiFi was “extremely valuable” to their academic success.  WiFi was second to a laptop computer.

I would agree that WiFi connectivity is something I look for when I’m traveling, especially when traveling overseas, so I’m not surprised by the data from the TripAdvisor survey.  However the statistic from Educause did surprise me.   As a technologist who helped to launch WiFi services at my institution, I don’t think we ever expected it to be primary connectivity choice.  Back in 1999, I installed WiFi in our college library thanks to a state grant.  Immediately we identified several limitations, especially when a group of staff members started attempting to download large files over the wireless network.

While “speeds and feeds” have improved with various versions of WiFi over the years, I still recognize that this is a shared network medium, which essentially means that the available bandwidth from an access point is shared by all the devices associated with this access point.  This is different from modern wired network connections, which offers dedicated bandwidth to the devices “plugged in” or connected to these wired ports.  But at some point the convenience of wireless connectivity has overshadowed the benefits of dedicated bandwidth.  In fact, I’m seeing is that less than 25% of the wired ports in our Residence Halls are actively used.  I’ve also observed that 96% of the DHCP offer and renew events on an average day, at our campus, are associated with the wireless network.

So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by the expectations surrounding WiFi connectivity.  Given the fact fewer cellular carrier are offering unlimited data plans, I recognize that tech-savvy customers are more mindful of where they can attach to WiFi networks.

Goodbye IT

January 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Yesterday, I had a colleague that sat in the audience as Apple unveiled a series of applications targeted for the education market.  In the midst of the announcements, this colleague tweeted the phrase “Goodbye IT“.  He later clarified the tweet, explaining that the tools introduced would relieve Information Technology from hosting and providing services for the dissemination of educational content, as oppose to the complete dismissal of products and services that Information Technology offers their respective organizations.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time I’ve heard the rumblings about the demise of organizational IT departments.  Some may recall an article that Nicholas Carr penned for the Harvard Business Review that proclaimed that “IT doesn’t matter”.  In Carr’s later book “The Big Switch“, he states that, “In the long run, the IT department is unlikely to survive, at least not in its familiar form.”  He goes on to explain, “It will have little left to do once the bulk of business computing shifts out of private data centers and into ‘the cloud.’  Business units and even individual employees will be able to control the processing of information directly, without the need for legions of technical specialists.”
Echoing this idea, Bill Clebsch – Vice President of Information Technology Services for Stanford University, recently spoke at the Association for Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education seminar and bluntly pointed out technologist have “living off it’s assets.”  Clebsch points out that mobility and cloud computing adoption lessens the demand for IT assets and as a result changes the expectations of IT.  He continues that IT can no longer rely solely on their technical skill sets.  Clebsch predicts the viability of IT will be in its ability to be a service broker as oppose to a service provider.
As a 15 year veteran of Information Technology, much of this is hard to take in.  At the same time, the signs of this tension is ever present.  In my own experience I see a greater scrutiny by other departments related to the services and products that IT has traditionally provided.  This scrutiny includes the funding models required to operate IT  as well as the service catalogs that IT maintain.   Sustainability is a question that comes up in conversations at all levels of the IT organization.  Can we sustain the myriad of applications that customers want or the devices they prefer to use?  Can we sustain funding enterprise infrastructure components to support legacy workflows and processes?  Can we fund investments in untested innovative technologies?  Can we sustain the mantra of doing more with less?  It would appear the focus on sustainability is masking the broader question associated with being able to survive change.



October 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Several weeks ago I received an inquiry from an industry magazine editor regarding my observations of wireless local area network clients that operate on the 2.4GHz band versus the 5.8GHz band.  The editor commented that he was working up an article, because he had heard several people comment about the struggles associated with the amount of congestion on the lower, 2.4Ghz, band.  In previous email exchanges with this editor, I too had commented that because of decisions by wifi device manufactures, my team had to deal with the limitations associated with the 2.4GHz band.

When I received the inquiry, my first inclination was to validate my own assumptions.  So I chose to pull some numbers.  Thankfully, I had already initiated a process where I was pulling metrics from our wireless network system to get a better sense of how the institutions system was being utilized.  This process proved to be valuable in responding to the editors request for comment.  With quantified data, I could offer an informed opinion and then provide some data points that illustrate that opinion.

The article came out earlier this week, and then was picked up by Slashdot.  At this point I started getting emails from colleagues who saw the Slashdot excerpt.  Curious, I checked out the Slashdot site and started reading the comments associated with the excerpt.  It struck me as odd to see the number of folks who were questioning the data I had referenced.  Some challenged that based on the number of students enrolled at the institution, the numbers were inflated.  Others obviously put pen to paper, and determined that there were errors in the arithmetic.

I know when I see numbers flying off the page or a screen, I too question their validity.  Understanding the methodology and/or context provides a deeper meaning.    One comment from the Slashdot suggested that based on the number of connections sited, the enrollment of the university sited on the website, and making an erroneous assumption of the number of faculty and staff, that the math works out to 47 connection per user per day.  Unfortunately it isn’t that simple.  My own numbers indicated we see 6,100 unique MAC addresses connecting to our wireless a day.  Because of the characteristics differences between wifi clients, we see that laptops account for 4% of the daily connections while iPhones and iPod Touches account for 51% of the daily connections.  My own opinion this speaks to the functionality of these different types of devices.  A laptop connects when you open he clam shell and stays connected until you close the clam shell.  Typically these connections are sustain for much longer than a mobile device, because with a mobile device you pull it out and it connects to wireless as you check your email, facebook, calender, etc.  The duration of this activity is only sustained for a couple of minutes, and then the mobile device is shuffled into a pocket, holster, etc.

For me the numbers are important.  It provides me the confidence to talk about the topic of wireless network connectivity or more specifically the challenges of mobile connectivity.  It enables me to provide illustrations and challenges to be think through the rational for why we are seeing certain patterns.  Numbers by themselves may be informative, but grasping the story the numbers tell, in my opinion is where the real strength lies.