Dec 8, 2015 – Hosted PBX: Do You Need a BYOD Strategy?

Bring your own device, or BYOD, refers to a practice that is becoming increasingly appealing in which employees are allowed to use their own equipment – laptops, phones (mobile and desktop), tablets, and other technology – for work purposes. In some ways, this trend is an outgrowth of an increasingly dispersed and freelance workforce; in other ways, it is a result of trying to limit the many technology devices in our lives. A third justification can be made that this move is an enterprise cost-saving measure. In this article I will address BYOD as it applies specifically to voice over IP devices.

Among hosted PBX service providers, embracing a BYOD strategy can create a lower barrier to customer acquisition (no need to replace your existing phones!).  While I do think that this trend will continue, and it has some distinct functional and economic benefits for enterprises and their users, it is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of a service provider BYOD strategy and to craft your policy with clear parameters that minimize potential problems and maximize the possible benefits.

A bit on my perspective: At VoIP Logic, in spite of the consequences of an open policy, we do not impose the use of any particular phone handset or other device on our service provider partners – they are free to choose the options that work best with their business offerings. My hope is that some of these consequences (positive and negative) are useful fodder as you thoughtfully craft your policy.

Advantages

Delivering VoIP services is complex – features to deliver, networks to navigate, protocols to normalize, etc. BYOD inherently introduces more complexity; any operator will tell you that standardizing on a specific network and specific device(s) can only improve the user experience. Disclaimer aside, here are some of the primary points you should include in your policy:

  • Specify the manufacturers’ devices that are part of your policy. Use this tactic to be as inclusive as possible – i.e. Polycom, Cisco, Yealink, GrandStream, Aastra, Edgewater and Adtran – but to also limit your exposure to unpredictable off-brand devices. It can create a fair amount of extra work to approve devices, but the advantages outweigh the costs.
  • Create an approved list of protocols. This might come off as a bit techie to non-technical customers, but the rationale is sound. Protocols have to match your abilities at the network core to deliver (i.e. support SIP but not SCCP). You will drive yourself to distraction trying to accommodate all protocols.
  • Put security at the top of your list. Toll fraud is a fact of life for service providers, so you want to make sure the devices you support can be configured and managed with encryption. This argument resonates strongly among enterprises that value security – hopefully most of them at this point.

Disadvantages

Allowing many devices, like allowing many networks, creates impediments to providing a seamless service. There is no way to candy coat this message at a certain point – especially at the point where there are service-effecting issues. Here are some of the limitations that you need to address in a BYOD policy that often have a negative outcome in real-world implementation:

  • Be clear about what is supported. There will need to be real lines between what belongs to the enterprise’s IT department and what falls to the service provider to fix. This can help to minimize finger pointing as problems arise.
  • Make sure you have the right to remove all historical settings from a device and to update a device with critical new firmware releases as they become necessary. This can further blur the lines of enterprise vs. service provider responsibility, which is why it is on the disadvantages list but it will help to standardize deployments.
  • Software and apps are not devices. Make sure you remain firmly in control of what soft clients on laptops and what apps on mobiles and tablets can be used with your hosted PBX offering.
  • Be clear on which third-party integration will not work with what devices. In the interconnected world there is a tendency for enterprises to not only think that they can bring their own devices but that these will be able to use all of the features and integration opportunities that you offer. This is often much harder than it might seem as much as your sales team does not want to believe it!

The most important takeaway from this article is that you need a policy and there is complexity to getting it right. Create a study group to consider these points above as well as others that are unique to your situation.

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