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Workers may have been bringing their own phone and tablets
onto the corporate network for some time now, but IT organizations are just
beginning to address the issues and problems caused by this BYOD (bring your
own device) trend. And VARs and MSPs, like the customers they serve, are
looking to get their arms around how to help customers, too, while at the same
time creating a revenue stream to support the devices.

Among the questions: how do you secure the devices when the
end user owns them? If the worker owns the phone, what happens to the phone
number if an employee quits or is fired? How do you make configuration of
smartphones into a scalable operation? There are just as many business questions
as there are technology questions.  These
and more were raised and addressed at a town hall meeting on mobility during
the Connectwise IT Nation event in Orlando in early November.

“From a mobility perspective we are looking to help clients
to access information securely from any location, including the local
Starbucks,” said Brian Miller, president and COO of United Technology Group in
Suwanee, Ga.  “We also want to help
clients from a unified communications perspective. For us that means
integrating the devices.”

But the whole consumerization of IT and BYOD trend offers
the threat of plenty of disruption.

“We sell a lot of product,” said Brad Schow, vice president
of services at Heartland Technology Solutions (HTS). “All the sudden it’s
Verizon, Apple and AT&T selling devices like we used to sell PCs. We need
to insert ourselves into that conversation. Customers had better understand
that we are strategically looking after their business or someone is going to
come in and move our cheese.”

Miller and Schow were part of a panel that also included
Brett Cheloff, director of development at RMM software vendor Lab Tech; Malcolm
Diack of The Final Step, a U.K., based solution provider; and  Lyf Wildenberg, of MyTech Partners in
Roseville, Minn.

Indeed, phones, sold by other entities, have taken VARs out
of the mix when it comes to the natural way IT solution providers have sold PCs
to businesses and then supported them. But because phones are distributed by
carriers and individual workers are often purchasing these devices on their own
and then bringing them into work, IT has lost control.

But there’s another opportunity to be pursued by VARs and
MSPs here, according to Diack.

“The device isn’t sold –it’s given away for free with a
contract and a data plan that is sold,” he said.  “That whole piece around advising on the contract
will be an area that we need to get very good at.” Other opportunities will be
around break/fix and expertise in hardware refreshes.

“All these things are probably not too difficult to show
clients that you can add value,” he added. “People are accustomed to paying
large amounts of money to the carrier over a period of time, and they hate
dealing with the telco.”

Just how are these MSPs rolling these services into their
managed services plans? So far, no one has mastered this aspect.

“My guess is that most MSPs are doing it for free now,
manually” said Wildenbert.  “The customer
says ‘well it’s just my phone or my iPad.’ If you let it be an ad hoc thing you
will not be able to build a value statement around it.”

Worse is when the customer or the customers end-users don’t
tell you about the devices they are adding to the network.

“IT managers are amazed of the number of devices on their
network that they didn’t know about,” said one audience member in the packed
room.  “Blackberry is top down approach.
Corporate has an iron fist to control over it. Apple’s approach is bottom up.”

Another audience member recounted a customer who had
purchased 450 iPads (from some other organization), and found that employees
were consistently going over the data limit, incurring mountains of overage
fees. This organization was looking for someone to help manage employee data
use.

LabTech’s Cheloff noted that setting up Microsoft Exchange
on iPhones and iPads will likely be the biggest request.  “If you are fully managing the devices, you
will need to limit access. And if they lose the device you will need to be able
to remote wipe the device.”

When you are setting up devices, today you do it in one of
three ways, he added.

“You either have to go on site to set up after they buy it;
you buy and set up and ship to them; or they bring it to you to configure,” he
said. “None of those are scalable.”

And yet, the wave of mobility in businesses large and small
is unstoppable. So how do you get started as an IT solution provider in
offering services that can make a meaningful difference to customers?

“We took our core business and looked at one piece that
would touch mobility. For us it was high performance wireless,” said
Wildenberg.  “Take something that you are
really good at today, or could be really good at today, and then start there. If
you have a security practice that would be a huge thing to take one step
forward.”

LabTech’s Cheloff recommends combining security and Wi-Fi by
creating two separate Wi-Fi networks at customer sites – one for mobile devices
and the other one for everything else.

“It’s almost advisable to have a separate Wi-Fi network for
mobile devices that is not even on your domain for security reasons,” he said. “If
they are BYOD, the hackers can just come into your environment. Security is
huge for mobility.”