Callout: The closer the IT function comes to the business and the issues it needs to address, the easier it will be to influence the selection of tools and ensure that they’re properly managed.

There can’t be many organizations today that aren’t struggling to manage the proliferation of personal IT devices in the workplace—popularly known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Tablets, smartphones, and other technological status symbols have become so widespread in the office environment that many IT managers simply have no idea how to put processes and guidelines in place to regulate their use. A recent survey by LANDesk reported that just 20 percent of IT service desks manage employee-owned devices.

The Great BYOD Debate

For those in Enterprise IT management, there are many aspects to the BYOD debate. On the technical side, there are the security and data integrity issues that accompany any hardware or software change. For decades, software vendors have worked tirelessly to integrate servers and client devices of every kind into the corporate world, and to extend mature IT management disciplines to them in order to protect valuable corporate data and resources. The hybrid capabilities demonstrated and promised on the System z show just how much is possible for those seeking to control diverse networks of devices. But even IBM would admit that the rate of change today challenges the most technology-agnostic organizations.

Then there’s asset management. Enterprise IT has always struggled with the seemingly simple task of keeping track of every network-attached computer in the organization, knowing what the device is, what release of what software it’s running, which apps and packages have been paid for, and when they’re due to be upgraded. I’ve spoken to IT managers who didn’t know the location of some of their UNIX servers, let alone the vast collection of devices routinely plugged into their networks that locate and extract their chosen data, and disappear again almost without trace.

Asset management has always proved to be an elusive target. In the late ’90s, with the Millennium Bug looming large, it looked as if we would finally nail down our corporate assets as we rummaged among the code in search of offending two-digit dates. Y2K offered the best chance ever to start with a clean slate, record exactly what was running in the organization, and exert strict controls over every asset added to or deleted from the corporate inventory. But immediately after the Millennium, the all-clear was sounded and asset managers went back to fighting fires on a day-to-day basis. With BYOD, of course, asset management has achieved a further level of complexity. At least in the past we knew who owned the hardware and the data. Today that distinction has blurred completely, as has the physical distinction between the home and work environments. At the same time, the stakes are so much higher, as regulations and laws governing the correct use of personal data and the appropriate use of corporate assets are stricter than ever before.

The Best Technology to Do Our Jobs

It strikes me that, however much the technology changes, the main underlying issue remains the same: The world is full of people trying to do their jobs better and looking for the best technology to support them in this quest. In the ’80s, when I came into the industry, Enterprise IT was still a relatively exotic discipline but even then users were grasping at distributed technologies outside the data center to help them get their job done better and more quickly. Today, our younger knowledge workers are far more IT savvy and the tools available to them are vastly more diverse. But the solution remains the same. The closer the IT function comes to the business and the issues it needs to address, the easier it will be to influence the selection of tools and ensure they’re properly managed.

The IT/business relationship is critical, regardless of whether you’re using a mainframe or an iPad.