Wandering Thoughts archives


My perspective on the 'Bring Your Own Device' controversy

My understand, garnered mostly from Twitter, is that there is an increasing controversy about what is being called BYOD; people bringing in their own computers and other devices instead of using IT-issued stuff. As it happens I have a skewed perspective on this issue, because our academic environment here is heavily BYOD at multiple levels. For us, supporting BYOD to some level is routine and in fact actively required because of how computing is provided (and not provided) to people here.

(I say we have multi-level BYOD because a professor buying their own equipment for a research group is somewhat different than a graduate student or staff member showing up with their own computer or device. How computing is 'provided' here is a sufficiently complex issue that it needs its own entry; this one is already long enough.)

In my view, what makes BYOD work in our environment is that we don't really attempt to directly provide support for BYOD devices and BYOD users (especially really good support of the 'we will make it work' type). In a way this goes along with our sysadmin environment, as one way to summarize our reaction to BYOD devices is that we provide services and it's up to the owner of a BYOD device to get that device working with them. Sometimes the answer is that you just can't; for example, if you turn up with an unsupported printer and want it to be part of our printing system the answer is going to be 'no, we told you to get a supported printer'.

(We have relatively broad standards for supported and maybe-supported printers, but network connectivity and PostScript support are basic minimums.)

This answer is a copout in three ways. First, I'm only speaking of the central core sysadmin group. Points of Contact work on whatever their groups and professors tell them to; if the group wants their Point of Contact to spend their time making people's random BYOD devices work in our environment, that's up to the group. However, there's an obvious limit in that Points of Contact only have so much time (and this is explicit). The group gets to prioritize the time but they don't get to demand that extra time magically appear, so if a Point of Contact is providing hands-on support for BYOD devices they're not doing other things.

Second, this lack of support fundamentally assumes that you can opt to not support people. This ties into a broader issue of what makes an academic environment very different from a corporate environment, but the short and unkind version is that graduate students are really on their own. Unlike conventional employees, if they can't work that's ultimately their problem not the department's.

(For support staff, the answer is that they're provided a baseline IT environment. If they want to supplement it or replace it with a BYOD device but can't get the device working, the answer is 'use your IT provided system'. For professors the answer gets complex, as you might guess.)

Third, once a particular BYOD device starts to become common we start supporting it simply as a practical matter. There may be no official document that says that we'll support Windows 7 on laptops on our wired and wireless networks, but in practice doing so is a clear requirement. If something in our core environment doesn't work with a common device, we have to fix it (even if our core environment is technically operating to spec). In practice this is both common sense and not particularly burdensome so far.

(Not all common functions of devices are necessarily supported, only what we consider sufficiently important ones. For example it would be nice to support Apple's Airprint for Macs, but we don't so far. But printing from Macs to our printing environment is supported in general; you just have to configure things by hand on the Mac.)

As a side note, BYOD is inescapable in an academic environment because of grant funding issues. Professors with money will not buy only what IT tells them to, no matter what; in fact, often they may have very little practical choice about what they buy and who they buy from.

sysadmin/BYODOurView written at 03:13:02; Add Comment

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