Network Management | Feature

Using Social Media to Manage the BYOD Wave

A device-management tool is helping Seton Hill University administer its mobile network via social media--using plain English.

As any CIO can attest, the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) era has arrived on campus, along with all the challenges and opportunities inherent in a multiple-choice environment. For many schools and universities, the size and power of the wave have come as something of a shock, leaving them scrambling to cope. The level of unpreparedness is not altogether surprising, however. After all, the BYOD wave was formed by a perfect storm of three converging forces: mobile technology, cloud computing, and social networking.

One school riding the wave of these megatrends is Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. As early as the summer of 2010, Seton Hill became the first university in the nation to provide an iPad for all full-time faculty members and students. The responsibility for managing these devices fell to Phil Komarny, vice president for information technology and CIO.

So, last year, he became an early adopter of a technology that allows IT administrators to manage any network device, anywhere, leveraging the very same forces that created the BYOD wave in the first place. "We now have the ability to respond in real time, through social media, to network challenges, and to address student and faculty needs with great efficiency," says Komarny. "Using a smartphone or tablet, and using native language and local language, we can control our enterprise network infrastructure on Twitter, Facebook, or Salesforce.com Chatter."

The tool, which was developed by Enterasys, is called ISAAC (Intelligent Socially Aware Automated Communications). Integrated with Mobile IAM, a new Enterasys access-management tool, ISAAC gives network engineers visibility into every mobile device connected to the network, "anytime, anywhere."  They can manage the connections by a simple tweet or chat conversation, using everyday language to communicate with the network and individual devices.

ISAAC supports three models, with various levels of secure access:

  • Social media (Twitter and Facebook) with read-only access
  • Social media with read-write access and two-factor authentication
  • Enterprise social media (Salesforce.com Chatter)

Komarny calls this convergence of technology and social media "inevitable." In his view, the old-school IT way simply won't work with BYOD. "98 percent of our traffic is wireless; the 2 percent that is wired is our phone system," he explains. "With wireless interface, we are completely connected and completely mobile. People want the experience to be commonplace and intuitive. With our system, we segment by operating system, not by network. ISAAC can be used to 'touch' a student device. If the device is not going where it's supposed to, we can pass commands via a social network to our switches to limit that student device for x amount of minutes."

For Komarny, the key is the switch from arcane machine language and coding to plain English. "We're going to be a lot more technical in the background," he notes. "It doesn't need to be exposed to the end user. The IT staff doesn't need months of training. The benefits are big."

To illustrate his point, Komarny tells a story unrelated to ISAAC. Soon after Seton Hill launched its iPad program in 2010, a maintenance worker came to his office and requested an iPad. He was 68 years old and had been on the job for 46 years. He explained to Komarny his idea for taking pictures of carpets and "broken things" around campus, and cataloging the photos for reference and follow-up maintenance or replacement. "I was so impressed that I gave him my iPad on the spot," said Komarny.

It's a story that resonates with Vala Afshar, chief customer officer for Enterasys, who believes that productivity will inevitably improve if employees have tools that are easy to use and which fit into the way they work. "BYOD is not about technology, it's about lifestyle," he says. "Now that we're able to communicate in human language rather than machine language, via social media, from any smart device, processes that were traditionally done by someone sitting in a network operations center can be done by both humans and machines." And they can be handled from anywhere.

The Enterasys Mobile IAM costs more than $20,000 for 3,000 devices, but administrators can provide control and visibility into their BYOD environments for around $5,000, depending on the size of the campus. Seton Hill, which has experienced explosive growth in connected devices since it launched its iPad program two years ago, still manages its network with just two staffers. What's more, Komarny has reduced the IT budget by 18 percent each year.

"We have been able to provide a next-generation curriculum at a fraction of the IT expense," says Komarny. "We were also the first to beta test ISAAC, which has proved to be a very innovative approach to making IT management a much more proactive activity."

About the Author

Toni Fuhrman is a writer and creative consultant based in Los Angeles.

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