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Companies Turn to Self-Service for Employee Device Support

How to choose who's responsible for supporting personal devices in the workplace is becoming an issue for companies with bring-your-own-device policies.

May 28, 2013
Related Topics: Internet, HR Technology, Technology

Portage County in Ravenna, Ohio, launched its first bring-your-own-device pilot program earlier this year, and problems are already cropping up.

"We have situations where end-users go to the wireless service provider to troubleshoot connectivity issues with our network before contacting us," says Brian Kelley, the county's chief information officer. The problem is that employees aren't aware of the network's unique configuration, which means the solutions they get often don't work, he says. "Then we find ourselves arguing with the end-user over who is right—us or the service provider."

Such help-desk challenges have become a costly conundrum for companies rolling out BYOD policies. Information technology leaders want to support employees, but they don't want to dedicate valuable resources to fixing phones that freeze because of buggy game apps or trying to explain why the company email system won't work on a laptop that still runs Internet Explorer 1.0.

It's a dilemma, Kelley says. "The whole point of a BYOD policy is to provide the end-user with the technology they need to do their job, but how can you do that if you don't support it?"

Finding the right tech support balance for BYOD environments is a challenge for a lot of companies, says Michele Pelino a Forrester principal analyst who specializes in BYOD policies. "As companies evolve their mobile strategy, the big question is: 'What are the implications for the help desk?' "

Some firms avoid some problems by proactively educating employees, through lunch-and-learns, and frequently asked questions on common BYOD problems and how to avoid them. Others establish formal help policies that clearly define the kinds of support employees will—and won't—receive from the IT department for their personal devices.

TDS Telecommunications Corp., a telephone and Internet services company based in Madison, Wisconsin, follows a limited support model, and so far it's working, says Karl Betz, director of infrastructure risk management and security. TDS's BYOD policy allows employees to use personal smartphones for email and calendar tasks. Betz's team will help employees connect to the network, download the apps and set up passwords. But after that, his team is done, he says. "Phone stability falls to the employees."

So far support calls have been minimal, but Betz worries that, as he expands the policy to allow more workplace applications on smart phones and adds laptops, tablets and other devices, support calls—and associated help-desk costs—will rise. "The more we diversify the devices and platforms we allow, the more we nickel-and-dime ourselves to death meeting user needs," he says.

This is where companies must define exactly what their support policy will be and who will receive support, Pelino says. "In most cases there is no one-size-fits-all answer."

Road warriors, service techs and executives who need their personal devices to effectively conduct business should warrant a greater level of support than in-house employees who just prefer to use their iPhone or tablet to check email and schedule events. "Tiered support is a good way to manage costs," Pelino says.

But before rolling out any policy, she urges IT to work with human resources and legal to make sure the rules are fair, legal and provide the right support to those who need it most. "Think about the business value of supporting each employee and the costs associated with those interactions," she says. "Because you can't do everything for everyone."

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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