A wearable education

Universities need to sit up and start preparing for WYOD, says Ennio Carboni, executive vice president of customer solutions at Ipswitch

Students and academics rapidly adopt technology. They use their smartphones as primary internet access and their phone as a modem/hotspot using 3G/4G connections. Therefore, it is likely that they will use smart glasses and smartwatches if they will make their lives easier in the same way.

As the Wear Your Own Device (WYOD) trend takes hold, it will have a major impact on university networks. Worryingly, recent research highlights the fact that universities are unprepared. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Ipswitch has revealed that when asked about managing wearable technology entering UK universities, 76% admitted to having no plan in place.

The report looked at how UK universities were using network management tools and if they were planning for the security and bandwidth issues wearable technology will bring. It found that although 99% have invested in network management tools, almost half (49%) of UK universities couldn’t differentiate between wired and wireless devices on their networks.

Performance was cited as a key priority by 93% of universities. The vast majority (81%) of universities manage 200 devices or more. Over half (54%) of universities manage over 1,000 devices. However, just over a third (36%) review network performance on a weekly basis and 15% do not review it at all.

Universities are deploying network management tools that they do not need; yet they are unable to gather key information on the increasing devices logging on to their networks. If they do not get a handle on the situation, they will suffer from device overload and inevitable downtime.

It would be a wise move for universities to start putting a WYOD policy in place to cover shoring up network access points, security, management and monitoring. It should also look at legal issues such as data privacy.

Preparing for WYOD

Today BYOD devices such as smartphones are the norm on campus. WYOD will also become more prevalent as the technology becomes cheaper and more readily available.

When drafting a WYOD policy it is key to consider the following:

  1. Security – due to the security risks of wearables, there should be security procedures and a plan of who can log on where. The IT department must also monitor the devices logged on. If a wearable is lost or stolen, you must ensure that the owner reports it and all necessary passwords are changed. If a wipe of the device is required the owner must co-operate. 
  2. Check that your network has the bandwidth to cope with the increase in traffic. You might want to consider providing access to users based on locations and time-of-day usage to help with this influx. You may also have to limit some access for wearables that don’t fit the profile of devices allowed to log onto the network
  3. Everyone at the university should be made aware of the WYOD policy, including what devices have access and what apps are allowed.
  4. Keep the message short and sweet, but make sure all stakeholders know the policy and understand the rationale behind it.
  5. Prohibit data as defined by the Data Protection Act 1998 and University confidential information from being stored in personal cloud services such as Dropbox.
  6. Remember WYOD is an ongoing process and must be continuously reviewed and updated as new technologies appear.

The goal is to find a balance between boosting productivity and keeping the campus network secure. By proactively creating WYOD policies and flexible guidelines universities can continue to use technology to their advantage in a safe manner.

About the research

The FOIA request was designed to identify whether public sector organisations, including 123 universities, were adopting effective approaches to the widespread challenge of managing a growing number of devices on their networks.