InfoComm: Get Ready: BYOD or Bust

By Tim Kriedel
Special to InfoComm International

byod-exec-0613Within four years, half of all employers will have a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy for smartphones, tablets and PCs, the research firm Gartner predicts. BYOD is what tech types call a plan to welcome personal mobile devices on enterprise networks. Four years might sound like a long way off, but it’s not. In fact, regardless of whether their employer has a BYOD policy, 89 percent of workers already use a personal device to access their company’s network, according to a recent Check Point Software Technologies survey.

That trend portends a host of challenges and opportunities for AV vendors and integrators. For starters, 30 percent of employee-owned mobile devices — sanctioned or not — have corporate photos and video stored on them, Check Point’s survey found. Employees often want to get that content out to displays and projectors, which is sometimes easier said than done, for a variety of reasons. AV integrators need to help facilitate such content sharing.

A fundamental challenge is the large and growing selection of physical connectors. For every standard that has one foot in the grave, such as VGA, two more appear, such as Thunderbolt and Lightning. Either conference tables or podiums have to be equipped with a hydra of connectors, or an organization has to choose the ones that work with most employee devices. Seems simple, but it isn’t.

“A lot of folks still expect the BYOD person to meet the infrastructure more than halfway,” says Sean Brown, vice president at Sonic Foundry. “You’re still expected to have in your possession the appropriate adapters.”

Wi-Fi gets around the physical-connection hurdle, but has its own set of issues, including concerns about security and whether video will clog up the wireless LAN (WLAN).

“The biggest challenges we see are in regards to security,” says Blaine Brown, technology director at Sensory Technologies, an Indianapolis-based integrator. “Some companies do not let employees put their personal devices on the company network, which is usually where the AV gear lives.”

Although most BYOD devices have Wi-Fi, AV clients still face a decision over whether to enable peer-to-peer connections with AV gear or force the connections through a switching and control infrastructure. This is where AV integrators can add value by walking clients through the pros and cons of each option.

“Typically, there would be a wireless receiver that would then plug into the display,” Brown says. “We are starting to see more manufacturers build technology into their displays that handle it natively. They usually require the user to download their app in order to transmit content to the display.

This might be acceptable in simple rooms, Brown explains, but in highly complex rooms, with control systems, it may be preferable to have the wireless receiver sitting alongside other digital and analog inputs, just like another source.

Choking on Apples

appletv-0613When people talk about BYOD, the conversation usually centers on smartphones, tablets and — sometimes — laptops. And that makes sense, because they represent the vast majority of employee-owned devices. One notable exception, however, is Apple TV. Many higher- and secondary-education technology managers say that faculty and graduate instructors are increasingly bringing Apple TVs into the classroom.

“Teachers are adopting Apple TVs in classrooms as a cost-effective way to make learning more interactive and increase student engagement,” says Stephanie Kohler, distribution account manager for BenQ America. “With Apple TV, teachers don’t need to stand at the front of the room. They can move, they can sit with their students, they can teach — or let their own students teach — from anywhere in the room via an iPad. Furthermore, teachers can take advantage of iTunes U and iBooks Author as teaching tools.”

Apple TV is showing up in a lot of corporate environments, too. “It’s not necessarily to play movie content or iTunes,” says Shaun Robinson, AMX vice president of product management. “They just want the AirPlay feature — that wireless method of getting content from their iPad to the display. Apple TV is the only way to do that because AirPlay is a closed system. Apple has licensed the audio portion of AirPlay, but they haven’t licensed the video part. I doubt they will.”

Why? One possible reason is that keeping AirPlay closed will help Apple if and when it starts selling TV sets. Whatever the motivation, AV pros are left grappling with how to make Apple TV and AirPlay meet client requirements.

“Apple TV doesn’t have all of the security protocols yet — WPA2 and things like that,” Robinson says. “So IT departments are concerned when those get plugged into a network.”

Some colleges and enterprises are mitigating that risk by partitioning their WLANs so that Apple TVs are limited to their own virtual LAN (VLAN). This enables them to use the network to connect to projectors and other AV gear, without creating back doors for hackers. Another option is to bring in a Wi-Fi router to create a mini WLAN for just one classroom or conference room. “That keeps Apple TV off the network,” Robinson says.

Resistance is Futile?

The rise of Apple TV as a BYOD factor is just the latest example of how consumer experiences increasingly set workplace expectations.

“It’s about the user experience,” says Bill Nattress, a Shen Milsom Wilke principal, who spoke recently about BYOD and AV. “[People say], ‘I can do this at home. Why can’t I do it at work? Why can’t I do it at school?’”

That should sound familiar to anyone who worked with corporate IT when BlackBerries became as common as khakis, largely because employees — particularly executives — bought them on their own and then told their IT departments, “Figure out how to make this work with our email.” Today, we’re talking about MacBooks, Apple TVs, iPhones and iPads, but the message is the same: When the bosses bring them in, resistance is futile.

“Because of the seniority of a lot of these people, they haven’t been able to clamp down,” says Julian Phillips, vice president at Whitlock.

Sometimes, new technologies make inroads at a grass-roots level. For example, a decade ago, many office workers brought in Wi-Fi access points and plugged them into the company Ethernet jacks. Today, that quest for convenience — IT policies notwithstanding — is also helping drive smartphones, tablets and other consumer devices into the enterprise. Hence that statistic that 89 percent of workers already use a personal device to access their company’s network.

Such usage is an opportunity for AV vendors and integrators to provide their clients with solutions that balance employee convenience and preference with IT department concerns over security, support costs and the proliferation of physical connectors. One example is Barco’s ClickShare, a collaboration and presentation solution that makes it easier to connect portable devices to a room’s video system.

Another option might be to have a display or projector show a PIN or QR code. The user then scans or enters the code to get access either directly to the AV gear or indirectly via the WLAN. Such an architecture has two benefits. First, the user has to be in the room because the PIN or code changes periodically, offering a layer of physical security. Second, it eliminates the problem of a user accidentally or intentionally connecting to the AV system in the next room.

As it happens, a recent AirPlay update adds just that kind of functionality. “That’s a nice feature to prevent somebody from disrupting the meeting from a different part of the building,” Robinson says.

But it has the potential to create a more existential problem: As Apple and other vendors make it easier for their gear to connect to AV devices, is there less need for integrators and programmers to knit everything together? Possibly, especially if more and more clients forgo pro displays for less expensive TVs, which increasingly have Wi-Fi built in. This may sacrifice security for convenience, but some customers may not care.

Ultimately, the existential answer depends partly on whether vendors pursue proprietary technologies as a way to protect their turf. “A lot of Android devices use the NVIDIA chipset and its Miracast technology, which is like AirPlay,” Robinson says. “Microsoft SmartGlass lets Windows 8 devices communicate with Xbox devices, similar to AirPlay. Intel has WiDi. So do I have four boxes behind the display? Do I also have to plug dongles into my laptop?”

Such fragmentation could prompt clients to rely more on integrators to help them choose and implement the right solution for connecting employee-provided devices. Despite how quickly BYOD has grown over the past year, many enterprises are still grappling with the IT aspects and haven’t begun to consider where AV fits in. That’s another opportunity for integrators to provide guidance.

“AV integrators should explain the challenges associated with BYOD to clients, as well as communicate the importance of developing, implementing and enforcing a BYOD policy that’s tailored to the organization’s unique challenges, business objectives and end user needs,” Kohler says.

Even then, consumer experience will play a big role in what integrators and AV vendors deliver. “The Holy Grail is something that’s as convenient as what Apple has developed for the home, but works in the enterprise,” Brown says.

This column was reprinted with permission from InfoComm International and originally appeared here.