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Delivering an environment where people are able to bring their own devices into the office and use them is certainly one of the biggest trends of our time and it’s proving to be one of the hardest things to support. To quote Forrest Gump “you never know what you’re going to get”. How do you provide support into an environment where you don’t know what it is that you’re going to be supporting? Do you need Windows skills, Mac skills, iOS skills, Android skills or all of them, the answer is probably all, but you need to concentrate on the managing and supporting the environment and the data rather than the devices.

Setting expectations

That of course is easy to say but difficult to do when you bring user expectations into the equation. Do your users expect you to be able to fix every problem that they have? Probably yes, over time that will change and my hunch is that it probably already is and you don’t know it but perhaps it’s going to require a push to get things started. That push will probably come in the form of a win/win approach of changing the depth what you are expected to support in exchange for supporting more breadth of support. Gartner back in July published a paper Best Practices for Supporting ‘Bring Your Own’ Mobile Devices which I thoroughly suggest reading but without thinking solely about mobile device support and just thinking about device support.

One of the key aspects of support that’s addressed really well by this paper is how you define support. Certainly in my 10 years of hands on experience in the industry I’ve come across two types of support the standard support type of “technically bounded” or break/fix (when it breaks you’re bound to fix it) and “best efforts” (you keep going until you can’t be bothered any more).

Lots of us don’t really take too much time thinking about this because as IT Professionals there is a huge amount of professional pride in fixing a problem – indeed I count problem solving skills as probably the most important skill set of anyone in IT. So we end up doing everything to find a fix and that’s what most of our user base has traditionally expected us to be able to do: Fix it. I’d argue that much of our identity as professionals is wrapped up in that too. My experience also leads me to see that most of us have implemented “best efforts” for technologies that have sneaked their way in.

How many people are running their mobile strategy on a “best efforts” approach? I think in smaller enterprises it’s likely to be more prevalent than in larger enterprises but I’m sure there are groups of special case users who get “best efforts” around their odd bits of kit – in house graphics teams using Macs are often in this camp too – again in my experience. I don’t particularly like this approach to support because it’s missing one of the most important aspect of support: reasonable expectation setting for the user. As a user I don’t know where I am.

What I really like is the idea of “Timeboxed” support. This is an idea that is really simple for everyone to understand and Wikipedia does a great job of defining Timeboxing but an example is a great idea to describe it. A football match is a time boxed activity, there’s a start time, everyone knows it’s going to last for 90 minutes and if it’s not won (resolved) at the end of that time there is a contingency for extra time. The beauty of this is that everyone is aware of the expectation in advance and they know what they’ll get out of it. For this reason I love this idea when you consider support of wildly disparate end points.

Of course you cannot use one method in isolation. It would be really hard to do time boxed support of your network, for example, because you own that infrastructure and therefore you are solely responsible as an organisation for it. For that reason it strikes me that time boxed support for Bring Your Own Devices is a great thing, with traditional technically bound support remaining for “owned” infrastructure.

What happens when the time runs out? What a great question and this is where leveraging this as a win/win scenario comes in along with management of your environment. Your technical people need to be able to deal with the most common eventualities of connecting devices into your environment which requires you to major your knowledge around the environment. You have of course allowed the user to select their kit, told them that you’ll spend a maximum of an hour fixing it and when that doesn’t work they will have to consider their position or use a corporate asset.

Which is where one of the more important tactics for a really good BYOC or consumerisation programme comes in – maintaining standard business connectivity devices. You still need a bit of kit that you will guarantee to work at all times that is still covered by your technically bound support option because your business, your users need to run no matter what.

Self help

Earlier I suggested I had a hunch that support was already changing and the reality is that access to information is making that happen. Some organisations are seeing users search for an answer for a technical problem first especially so in organisations with some form of BYOC policy and especially in the millennial work force. An example close to home is me. At Microsoft we have a pretty consumerised approach and I can say honestly that I’ve not called our helpdesk in over a year – granted and I’m far more technical than most, but I don’t have access to administer AD in Microsoft. That means I cannot just give myself access to a share or something. Generally if something is wrong firstly I Bing it. Then I check on our internal help and fora. Calling the helpdesk is the last resort and not because they are under skilled, far, far from it, it’s because it’s faster to search for it. Self-help works at my pace.

So in a consumer world self-help is critical, peer or community help is secondary and helpdesk is relegated to tertiary help – generally the place you go when you MUST get it fixed. Should we be insourcing those helpdesks again?

Help doesn’t just exist to fix things of course, help is also where you go for service and as such a self-help service system for moves, adds and changes is a must. Forefront Identity Manager and management of your AD are key to keeping things running smoothly. Again in Microsoft if I want access to something I request access using FIM and if the owner of the asset (usually data of some form) agrees I get it. EVERYTHING is managed through a single point of truth – Active Directory – including my access to cloud services using ADFS, total integration and a very low cost of doing business.

Things to think about

Supporting users in a consumerised environment is just like it always has been. The keys are:

· Set clear expectations

· Provide support options that work on their terms

· Prove access to as much support as you can

· Support what you control: data and environment, devices will come and go

· Maintain a baseline and use it as fall back

If you’d like some help getting to grips with new technologies then give Microsoft Virtual Academy a go

How do you support consumerisation of IT