The Impact of BYOD on the Service Desk


by Jeff Brandt
May 1, 2015

The growing trend toward BYOD will continue to pose challenges for allocating service desk resources more creatively and accommodating users’ needs. For any service desk managers who’ve been holding out hope that the BYOD trend would fizzle or even reverse itself, abandon all hope: it’s not going to happen.

The research firm IDC predicts that the annual worldwide growth rate in BYOD adoption will average around 25 percent a year, growing from 175 million workers in 2014 to 328 million workers in 2017. Gartner forecasts that by 2017, 90 percent of organizations will support some aspect of BYOD, and that by 2018, there will be twice as many employee-owned devices used in the workplace than enterprise-owned devices.

The reasons for this rapid growth are easy to see. Assessing only tablet usage, Gartner found that IT departments can support almost three times as many users in BYOD programs than in company-purchased tablet programs. According to Gartner, direct costs of user-owned tablets are 64 percent lower, with almost all of the savings from eliminating device acquisition costs. The enterprise can either buy 1,000 tablets or support 2,745 user-owed tablets at the same cost. The bottom line for the service desk is that support for employee-owned mobile devices, primarily smartphones and tablets, is only going to grow.

IT departments can support almost three times as many users in BYOD programs than in company-purchased tablet programs.
Tweet: IT departments can support almost 3X as many users in BYOD-programs than in company-sponsored programs. @ThinkHDI

The impact that BYOD is having on service desk workloads is already apparent. When the 2014 HDI Support Center Practices & Salary Survey asked participants to account for the 57-percent increase in trouble ticket volumes, 26 percent of respondents attributed the increase to the “use of personal equipment/devices” and 23 percent to “supporting mobile devices.” From users’ perspectives, many indicate that they aren’t thrilled with the level of support they’re receiving for their devices. When a recent CDW survey asked BYOD participants to grade the effectiveness of their organization’s BYOD policies and tech support on a scale of A to F, only four out of ten of the non-IT professionals who responded gave an A or B grade.

The Gartner study mentioned above concluded that companies need to find the right level of support for BYOD programs to capture the potential cost savings. Establishing and maintaining support for user-owned devices requires forethought and planning if a significant cost-savings goal is to be realized. There was a school of thought that if users were allowed to use their own devices instead of corporate-supplied devices, support levels would decrease, or at least not grow much. After all, if someone uses their own device both at home and at work, they should become familiar enough with it to solve most problems that might arise. Apparently, that hasn’t been the case. What does seem to be the case is that people acquire new devices with such frequency that just when they’ve mastered the details of their current device—presto—they’ve got a new one to learn. This is particularly the case with smartphones.

Supporting User-Owned Devices Is Different

The technical stumbling block that most often poses problems for users has to do with core messaging (email, text, voicemail), the most widely used mobile functions. According to the CDW survey, the other prominent areas of support for BYOD have to do with accessing organizational data, storing organizational data/documents, viewing/creating documents, collaboration (conferencing, webinars, document sharing), and process or project management. Support for these issues will depend on corporate objectives and guidelines for their BYOD approach. Not all of them might be relevant, or there might be other issues for an organization, such as support for proprietary applications. Keep in mind that user-owned devices that are used both in the office and at home are more likely to be exposed to malware. Security guidelines should be clearly communicated and rigorously enforced. It would be unfortunate if the workload on the service desk increased due to malware-related problems.

The first step to mitigating the support proglems with BYOD programs is to fashion formal policies that specify which devices are supported.

The first step to mitigating the support problems associated with BYOD programs is to fashion formal policies that specify which devices/operating systems are supported. In most instances, the list will include laptops, tablets, and smartphones that run Windows, OS X, iOS, or Android. Going beyond this, the version(s) supported should also be specified. There is some speculation that the mobile version of Windows might be more widely embraced in the future, as its seamless integration with desktop applications becomes more of a reality, so firms should keep an eye on its market penetration progress.

BYOD policies should be detailed but easy to understand, and they should be regularly communicated to the users as policies evolve to include or exclude devices. In the absence of easy-to-understand guidelines, the service desk becomes the “go-to” authority for policy-related questions. Eliminating these types of calls can help the service desk run more efficiently. For example, a company might decide that the only user-owned devices supported are iPhones and iPads. Users should understand that if they use other devices to get their email or access corporate information, they may not work and likely won’t be supported by the service desk. Setting user expectations upfront is an important function of written BYOD policies.

Users Need to Understand the BYOD Program Details

Ill-defined or poor communications about BYOD programs can obviate any potential benefits. If, for example, an organization operates a MS Windows environment and users bring in their Apple laptops because of their perceived superior user experience, they might encounter performance problems that sour them on the BYOD effort. In a similar vein, if a user brings in their laptop from home expecting access to the corporate VPN for a presentation they have to make in two hours without first going through the firm’s formal device approval process, they might find themselves making shadow puppets on the wall instead. After the fact, they might learn that there’s a multilevel device approval process that can take days to navigate.

Users also have to understand that bringing their own device to work doesn’t place responsibility for hardware problems or accidents on their employer. If an employee drops their smartphone and cracks the screen while at work, even doing company business, it doesn’t mean the employer is responsible for fixing the employee’s phone. This is another reason corporate policies that spell out what service desk personnel can and cannot do to support user-owned devices are so important.

A service desk analyst who goes too far can easily end up wiping and reimaging an employee’s hard drive. Service desk personnel should be clearly instructed that their involvement is only for approved corporate applications and activities. Some firms stipulate that if the trouble is not related to connecting to the firm’s network or a specific approved application, the service desk can’t touch it. Analyst training should be strictly constrained to cover only those activities they are allowed to perform.

When device approval processes aren’t streamlined, and guidelines and instructions aren’t clearly communicated, the workload on the service desk increases unnecessarily. Using simple, clear language on such topics as how to set up a device, approved uses for a device, corporate/user responsibilities, and building and circulating a list of FAQs offers users a self-service knowledge base that takes some of the pressure off the service desk.

Customized BYOD Service Desk Tactics Can Streamline Support

Depending on the number of users to be supported, one or two of the service desk analysts should be experienced in mobile device support and most of their time should be devoted to such support. These analysts would either be specifically recruited or receive training to fill this role. It’s reasonable to expect that 60–75 percent of these “mobile specialists’” time will be spent supporting the BYOD effort. Some organizations may want to structure their deskside support similarly.

Larger firms might want to consider establishing their own app store for users.

Documented instructions for the support analysts are also important, even if there are a couple of dedicated mobile device specialists. Other members of the service desk will, from time to time, be called upon to help mobile device users, so a current knowledge-base should be available as a resource for these other service desk analysts. The problems users need help with are usually straightforward and often pertain to navigation, custom settings, how to set up the right domain to receive email, and issues related to the specific firm’s security settings. To assist in troubleshooting both the service desk and the deskside support, personnel should be provided with “dummy” devices of the approved types. These will prove useful in the troubleshooting process when the analyst attempts to replicate the problem(s).

Larger firms might want to consider establishing their own app store for users. This would ensure they only download tested and approved versions of the applications. For example, if a firm uses an app such as Salesforce, there might be a variety of apps in the iOS or Android app store that are related to Salesforce. It’s important that employees use the correct app. An in-house app store would alleviate the issue of users downloading incorrect versions of the app, or different apps altogether.

Genius bar-type support is another mechanism larger firms can use to relieve the burden on the service desk. These offer a support infrastructure that users can readily access for technical support and provide them a place where they can quickly get help. For this type of approach to work, a little upfront planning goes a long way. Some things to think about in setting up a genius bar-type support offering include:

  • Is an appointment required? If so, allow users to set up appointments via either phone or the web.
  • Set a fixed amount of time for the appointment. Part of the reason for offering this support option is to relieve the support team, not add to their burden.
  • List the type of issues that the facility will address. Try to focus on troubleshooting, not training.
  • Set fixed hours and communicate those hours to all employees. You might want to start small, with limited hours and one or two analysts; the effort can always be expanded if it proves beneficial. Think about regularly soliciting feedback about the genius bar from users. If a significant proportion of the users are unhappy with the effort, you need either to fix it or eliminate it.

The use of toolsets to remotely control mobile devices for troubleshooting and repair is useful and affordable for some larger organizations looking to cut the number of deskside visits. There are now a number of applications that offer this functionality. Keep in mind that speed and simplicity are critical. If remote access slows the troubleshooting process down or adds a layer of complexity for the user, it probably isn’t the right solution.

BYOD Isn’t a Fad

BYOD is here to stay, and it’s only going to become more prevalent. In spite of the cost of additional support required to keep users up and running, the savings from eliminating device purchases is too great to ignore—and many employees want to use their own devices. By acknowledging, upfront, that BYOD will increase trouble calls to the service desk, organizations can proactively take steps to accommodate the increased workload and quickly resolve problems.

Spending the time to carefully plan a BYOD program, setting realistic expectations for all parties involved, and communicating program specifics to the users can go a long way toward assuring that cost savings from device acquisition aren’t offset by increased service desk expenses.


Jeff Brandt is an industry veteran at Randstad Technologies with more than fifteen years of experience at all levels of service desk solutions delivery, including managing individual service desks and delivery centers for more than 300 analysts. He is a certified HDI Help Desk Manager and has worked with numerous client technologies and support systems for interaction, incident, and knowledge management. Jeff has extensive experience in support environments in the government and higher education verticals. He received his BS in business information systems from Messiah College.


This article first appeared in the March/April 2015 must-read issue of SupportWorld.
Tag(s): best practice, byod, service desk, business value, technology, supportworld

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