Oct 09 2012

Can Colleges Provide Limitless Mobilty?

An IT manager from Western Carolina University offers insight into building an infrastructure that supports mobile computing.

There's enormous pressure on college IT staff to support the influx of mobile devices coming on campus today. This has forced IT departments to move from the notebook–desktop frame of mind and offer the same support and resources for mobile devices.

Policies centered around bring-your-own-device programs have grown exponentially on college campuses, and while BYOD can decrease purchasing expenses for universities, it also may mean that colleges need to spend some money on infrastructure.

For many state institutions, finding the money to deploy large infrastructure projects can be difficult. Our IT department relies heavily on year-end funding for a lot of these upgrades, largely ­because of lack of funding and the ongoing expense of maintaining current systems. The ­result is that we must plan these projects in phases, focusing on the necessity of the project for faculty, staff and students.

50% Percentage of college students who check their mobile devices at least every half hour

SOURCE: Wakefield Research (June 2012)

To maintain compliance and begin supporting mobile devices, our IT division implemented a mobile communication device policy for faculty and staff. The policy pushes settings to those who wish to access work e-mail from their ­mobile devices. Requirements such as passwords, remote wipe features and disabling attachments on ­university e-mail accounts are pushed to users' devices to increase security.

The IT department offers similar features to students, managed through the Outlook.com service we use for student e-mail. Although we do not enforce passwords for student-owned mobile devices, we do highly recommend that students password-protect their devices. These steps address some of the biggest issues regarding mobile devices and security, but we still have work to do combating malware on both of the leading mobile platforms.

Companies such as AirWatch ­offer mobile device management appliances that let enterprise systems push policies and software to mobile devices across a network, much like Microsoft System ­Center ­Configuration ­Manager for notebooks and desktops. Similar solutions are coming on the ­market and can ­assist IT departments in streamlining their support for these devices beyond the management offered by current appliances used for desktop management.

Open-Door Policy

The very real challenge for IT staff is that students want to access websites and web-based resources on their mobile devices the same way they do on their notebook computers.

To offer these resources on ­mobile platforms, IT departments need to test the ability to view and access ­university sites and content from many mobile web browsers. This is a trying task, considering the enormous selection of browsers that ­exist for just the most frequently used ­operating systems.

As more faculty, students and staff view a mobile device as their primary computing platform, the biggest challenge for IT staff is to think of smartphones and tablets the same way they think about a notebook or a desktop computer. These devices run important business functions — not to mention a number of resources for academia that have become important tools for teaching and learning.

It's a daunting challenge, but by continuously upgrading existing infrastructure and developing support for mobile platforms, college IT departments can stay ahead of the trend and give users what they really want: limitless mobility.


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