Is there a place for BYOD (Bring your own device) in Higher Education? Well, given that over 60% of employees already use their personal devices for work in some way, the question is no longer relevant. A more appropriate question is “What are the BYOD related benefits and costs?”, and this blog will help you begin to think about this question for your institution.

When answering this question, I think BYOD has different applicability for the 3 categories of users in a Higher Education environment:

  1. Employees (Faculty and staff)
  2. Students
  3. Visitors

The Benefits

The majority of employees are already using their personal devices for work and Gartner predicts that by 2017, half of employers will require employees to supply their own device for work purposes. While employees currently use their personal devices primarily for email, organizations that grant access to other administrative systems and collaboration tools create opportunities for productivity improvements by increasing the time window available to perform tasks and share information.

The student community is the biggest adopter of mobile devices (In mid- 2012, a Pew Research study of 18-29 year olds reported a penetration rate of over 66%). Gen Y students have a preference for using screen-based communications anytime, anywhere. So providing them with the ability to manage their college lives using their preferred communication mode – via their own devices - is not so much a benefit, but a form of “social compliance”. Note that we are talking “devices” per student; in certain colleges, students own an average of 3.5 devices! Students will perform not only academic related tasks on these devices, but administrative tasks as well if the experience is quick and simple. Colleges that don’t provide this capability will be less attractive to prospective students.

Visitors may seem like a strange category as they don’t need regular access to internal college data. However, there are occasions where providing data access to affiliated visitors, such as parents or supporters of the football team, can create a bond that builds loyalty and extends the community ecosystem. For example, the audience attending a college theatre performance could benefit from access to academic background on the work being presented and profiles of the actors and production team.

The Costs

There have been a number of studies on the financial impact of BYOD in commercial entities. The great majority have found that the implementation of an enterprise-wide BYOD program results in a net cost to the Enterprise. There are a few exceptions, such as Cisco’s claim of a 17-22% reduction in cost by going from company owned devices to BYOD. As for BYOD in Higher Ed, we were not able to find a credible cost study, although our search could not be classed as exhaustive.

Understanding the cost drivers is an essential first step in balancing the costs and benefits of BYOD implementation at your institution. So what are these cost drivers?

  • Device usage expenses – Prior to BYOD, companies/institutions typically chose a carrier to achieve volume discounts on both device purchases and service plan payments. For BYOD, restricting employees to one carrier is impractical, so most organizations settle on a monthly payment to the employee device owner to compensate for work related usage. There may even be a one-time allowance towards the purchase of a device, although this is less common. The policy here will likely depend on the richness of the current arrangement for employees. For students there is no compensation or subsidy except in certain post-graduate situations.
  • Mobility Device and Application Management (MDM/MAM) systems – The biggest BYOD concern for any CIO is related to the security of his college’s data. Unfortunately, security breaches, either caused by hackers and/or inadequacies in the college’s network security platform, are likely to happen. However, these can be significantly reduced or prevented using one of the relatively new mobility management solutions. These products not only provide access management capabilities, but also allow institutions to manage the applications and to implement “containers” on BYOD devices within which college applications can reside and essentially separate college data from access by the device environment outside of the container.
  • Support Desk – There will be a need for support of a multi-device, multi-platform (iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry) scenario. The knowledge and expertise required in the Support or Service Desk function will be far more complex than in a single platform scenario. Deployed resources will likely increase given the accelerating diversity of platforms and frequency of upgrades. Implementing a Mobility Management solution and stronger support processes may pre-emptively reduce the risk of a catastrophic security breach.
  • Wireless network capacity – Any discussion of BYOD in Higher Ed, especially where we assume multiple devices per user, must consider the bandwidth implications. For colleges, bulging with Gen Y students with an increasing number of use cases involving streaming video, the bandwidth needs per BYOD user are likely to be larger than in the corporate world, and they could become extreme for special events. For example, a football game with 80,000 spectators (employees, students and visitors) may pose extreme bandwidth challenges.

What’s next?

As can be seen from the above, effectively controlling the use of BYOD is no trivial matter. It is really important that a BYOD management program be implemented considering the various use cases for your institution and the resultant need for change across the following dimensions:

  1. BYOD Policies and Procedures – The first step in implementing a BYOD policy is drafting one. That said, only 24% of the higher education CIOs surveyed during Education Dive's 2013 "Mobility in Higher Education" survey said their institution had an official policy.
  2. BYOD Security via MDM/MAM selection and implementation – Implementing a comprehensive mobility management solution is critical as they provide a host of security related capabilities, including but not limited to remote security configuration, hardware and software access management, data encryption, application management, and remote locking and wiping.
  3. Organizational changes need to support 1 and 2 as well as provide a multi-device, multi-platform Help Desk – A 2012 Osterman Research study reported a 24% increase from 2011 to 2012 in the number full-time IT workers per 1,000 mobile devices and projected continuing growth in the years to come.
  4. Wireless Network Assessment and Improvement plan – A targeted network assessment is a key component of the BYOD readiness program as it may be  the only way for you to understand potential security vulnerabilities and BYOD related usage implications