Sometimes the only way to make progress is to leave something behind.
When developing a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, start by accepting that wireless is here to stay. Students expect to use all of their wireless devices while on campus. And they expect the same functionality and access, whether they are using their smartphone, tablet or notebook.
With expectations rising every day, how can IT staffs manage the burgeoning requests for new mobile technology? Our approach has been to create a positive environment where people know that they are listened to and that their ideas are acted upon.
At Bowdoin College, technology is integrated into everything we do. One move we made was to create an incubator in which faculty and students work with the IT department to find creative ways to integrate technology into the classroom and into their research. Many of our good ideas — from new websites to the development of various smartphone applications — stem from that group.
When we started almost a decade ago, the faculty and students — our clients — didn't think anything was possible. Now they think that just about everything is. As the CIO, it is my job to create a clientele that desires change. Take, for example, the adoption of smartphones. Five years ago, most people had cell phones; only techies had smartphones. But as prices came down and applications became readily available, people learned how to use smartphones.
Think about it: Learning how to use a smartphone takes a great deal of time, but most people would say that it's well worth the effort. It's the same with BYOD and any other new technology we deploy on campus. We have to be learning constantly, assessing and reassessing what we do. If our users find value in bringing a vast array of mobile devices to campus, then we have to find a way to support them, or offer them a better solution.
Based on our experiences at Bowdoin College, here are some best practices for building a strong BYOD program.
A BYOD program can succeed only if users are happy, so find out what they want. In doing outreach with students, we found that printing from a tablet was at the top of the list. We then moved printers to spaces where students congregate. Now that we've put printers in more convenient locations, there's less need for students to run back to their dorms or apartments to print.
What's unique about mobility today is that everyone has access to a device, and they all want to join the conversation and share information. Don't stand in the way by restricting people to specific devices. Be there to educate, support and deliver service. Also be prepared to support all the main platforms, and deliver exceptional service to the ones that work best. Today, we have people across the IT organization doing research on the many different flavors of mobile devices.
For a BYOD program to evolve, your stakeholders need access to mobility tools, and not everyone can afford to buy them. That's why we offer free access to equipment through a loaner pool. In the past, users could obtain technology only through their department. Now, everyone has access to every type of mobile device, from tablets and MP3 players to projectors and portable video equipment. Having a loaner program also gives people an opportunity to try new technology before they buy it.
Start by creating a specific plan for delivering adequate wired and wireless bandwidth, including adding switches and access points where necessary. Effective BYOD requires a highly available network that never goes down. With the proper infrastructure and a financial model for funding upgrades in place, it's easier to more flexibly support new technologies as they evolve.
For example, the need for high-performance computing in classes has greatly expanded over the past three to five years. Students and faculty from the sociology, history and geology departments are now asking for access to major systems that store massive amounts of data — and they want access to that information on all of their devices. The IT staff must build a network that's robust and flexible enough so that when technology changes and users are ready to deploy new devices, the network is ready for them.
Create a culture in which continuous learning among IT staff is encouraged and properly funded. It costs time and money to send people to classes, but without the proper training, the IT department will continue to implement old solutions, resist change and be unprepared for a fast-approaching future. The organizational disruption and technology failure that results will hinder everything, from academic research to fundraising.
Bottom-line financial managers may have a hard time understanding that IT skills and technology are a strategic advantage. The time-lost multiplier makes it easy to justify having an informed technology staff. Technology changes every three months. When the staff has limited skills, the group's ability to support innovative programs such as BYOD is diminished.