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BYOA: Challenges and caveats for controlling the flood of personal apps

Senior site editor Anne Stuart shares three cloud professionals' tips on managing the growing list of personal apps that employees bring to work.

In a recent SearchCloudApplications opinion column, Jan Stafford noted that software developers and users alike have reason to cheer the "unstoppable wave of 'bring your own applications' (BYOA) and 'bring your own cloud' (BYOC)." As Stafford puts it, the "woo-hoo factor" for both trends is their strong emphasis on innovation.

But Stafford, who is this site's executive editor, also acknowledged the many enterprise-IT headaches that accompany BYOA and BYOC. So we turned to three of our expert contributors for advice on reaping the benefits of both movements while avoiding as many headaches as possible. Their insights follow.

Caveats for cloud-based applications

First, we asked the experts to weigh in on the impact of BYOs-- especially email, but other apps as well -- on a variety of internal and external functions.

I wouldn't recommend 'burning the ships when you land,' but you do need to put a very strong emphasis on using the new systems.

Chris Moyer, vice president of technology, Newstex LLC

"The hardest thing to acknowledge when moving to a cloud-based application, especially email, is that you're losing a large amount of control. You'll be at the mercy of someone else's tech department," said Chris Moyer, vice president of technology for technology content aggregator Newstex LLC and a frequent contributor to SearchCloudApplications. The upside: "That tech department is almost certainly much larger than your internal department and has more experience with that one specific aspect they are replacing for you," he said.

For starters, BYOA can complicate quality assurance (QA) and testing, he said. "You have to think of what happens if the entire system goes down and you need to recover," Moyer said. "Cloud apps can be much harder to fix due to their massive distributed nature, and you need to be prepared for disaster. Always have a backup plan."

And it's no secret that the BYOA trend creates new security challenges. Internal applications typically rely on firewalls, but best practices for cloud-based services usually rely on secure passwords and encryption technologies, Moyer said.

For Carl Brooks, a 451 Research analyst who specializes in cloud computing and IT infrastructure, the impact of BYOA depends on the relationship between a particular application and the development process. He doesn't object to employees using a potpourri of personal apps such as email, scheduling and chat services. "Let people use what they are happy with and they will be happier," he said. But, as he told Stafford, using different services for critical development work "can make a big mess."

Establishing best practices for Bring Your Own Cloud apps

Next, we asked our experts about best practices and recommended policies for BYOA and BYOC.

Saurabh Sharma recommended stepping back and taking a big-picture look at BYOA governance. "IT is under pressure to provide a robust data security, privacy and governance framework encompassing a wide range of disparate applications, systems and business processes," said Sharma, a senior IT and software analyst with Ovum who also contributes to SearchCloudApplications. "Many organizations have enforced policies that define the boundaries of interaction between different devices and applications and are using new service gateways for enabling, securing and monitoring such interactions."

Brooks, of 451 Research, noted that policies and practices will obviously vary by team and project. "However, if a startup -- or even an established [development] in a large organization -- is going to use third-party, end-user-driven tools for collaboration, it is imperative that everyone be using them in the same way as much as possible," he advised.

Managing applications on behalf of multiple users

Especially critical: establishing policies for any applications involving the work of multiple users, said Brooks. "Make sure there are sensible rules and everyone sticks to them, especially around source code control and planning," he said. "Use central planning that everyone can see -- and stick to it." Finally, he added, don't switch out critical tools midstream unless not doing so would be catastrophic.

Moyer recommends heavily promoting the shift to cloud-based applications. "I wouldn't recommend 'burning the ships when you land,' but you do need to put a very strong emphasis on using the new systems," he said. "Go all in, but always have a backup plan in case you find something that doesn't work and you need to fall back to your old strategy."

At the same time, he recommended removing obvious temptations to returning to old systems and old ways of working.

"For example, if you're using Google Docs but still have a large repository in SharePoint or some other document system, it can be tempting to simply go back to that old system," he said.

Finally, the experts warned about two potential pitfalls to BYOA and BYOC. The first is a personnel issue, involving a personality type -- Brooks calls it "the enthusiast" -- who's particularly gung-ho about a particular cloud app. "The enthusiast is sure that his or her pet app is the best thing since sliced bread and can dramatically improve all aspects of a project," Brooks said. "But that's usually a red herring, and they end up putting a lot of effort into trying to bring people into the cult instead of productive effort to the project."

And Moyer recommends keeping a system administrator, or sysadmin, on staff regardless of where those apps live. "Although you don't need to worry about physical hardware, there are still plenty of tasks that a traditional sysadmin background can greatly aid in," he said. "You can't just fire your IT staff by moving to cloud apps."

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Does your organization maintain clear policies for applications involving the work of multiple users?