Just when school IT administrators thought they were on level ground after wading through the murky waters of BYOD (bring-your-own-device), a new challenge has emerged.

BYOD has led to the burgeoning popularity of BYOA (bring-your-own-application). Students and teachers alike are now using their own apps, on their own devices, for their own educational purposes. Video streaming, word processing, and other online learning tools are all apps, and they’re increasingly being used to both supplement and even replace traditional forms of learning in all grades and education levels.

BYOA presents a number of IT challenges. In addition to the strain that applications and data usage can put on school networks, users will undoubtedly be using unauthorized apps that may compromise network security. School administrators will need to do double-duty. They must make sure that their networks are running seamlessly, while locking them down to ensure unerring security, all without compromising the user experience.

The BYOD Foundation

Fortunately, schools that have already weathered the initial BYOD phase will find themselves well-positioned for BYOA. IT professionals who already have a good BYOD plan in place can take solace in the fact that they have established a solid foundation for BYOA.

Most likely, these teams are already using network monitoring tools and techniques to see how these devices are being used on their networks. They are automatically checking for “rogue,” unauthorized devices to ensure better network security, and monitoring usage patterns to make sure devices are not impeding overall network performance.

These same techniques and strategies can be applied to mobile applications monitoring. For example, IT can use network monitoring to help ensure that network performance remains consistent, even in the face of heavy data and application use. That’s important, especially if teachers are using bandwidth-hogging video applications in their learning environments.

Monitoring and bandwidth analysis tools can help IT professionals pinpoint where bottlenecks are occurring. They can analyze network traffic and discover which applications are creating the most concern. They can then act accordingly, limiting the use of suspect applications, or taking other actions to resolve bandwidth issues and enhance performance.

These tools can also be helpful in detecting potential security issues. They have the ability to alert teams if an unauthorized application is being used, or if an intrusion occurs. Specifically, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems are effective at monitoring application activity and providing valuable, 24/7 insight and alerts into potential security threats. IT professionals can respond quickly to these alerts and address the threat before any significant damage occurs or data is compromised.

(Next page: Building on the BYOD foundation and producing the BYOA-Game)

Building on the Foundation

While the BYOD foundation is a good start, to become truly successful at BYOA management, school IT professionals will need to expand their operations to be even more app-centric. In this regard, there are a couple of additional strategies teams will want to consider implementing.

The creation of an in-house app store, replete with school IT-approved applications, is an ideal way to make sure teachers and students are using school-sanctioned apps that improve education. Custom app stores serve three purposes.

First, they provide teachers and students with easy access to all apps permitted on the network. Second, homegrown app stores provide school administrators with a single place to keep, monitor, and maintain apps. Finally, curated app stores offer school IT professionals peace of mind, knowing their colleagues are only downloading applications that have been deemed safe. It’s a win-win scenario that can truly help protect networks from any app-related threats.

Speaking of safety, it’s also a good idea to develop a “black list” of applications deemed unsafe or that serve no educational purpose. These apps should be flagged so that when someone attempts to download one over the network, administrators are alerted immediately. While they’re at it, administrators may also want to consider implementing and maintaining a “white list” of approved applications deemed safe for use.

However, it’s important to note that administrators do not have to provide access for every app out there. Setting boundaries and establishing parameters will be critical in managing the still-to-crest BYOA tide.

Bringing (and Winning) the A-Game

The fact that there are so many applications out there could make the days of trying to manage a few mobile operating systems and devices seem like preschool. Clearly, school IT administrators had better bring their A-game to BYOA management.

Fortunately, many school administrators have already navigated the hardest part. They’re well prepared, thanks to the work done when they first confronted the initial BYOD threat. Now it’s just a matter of applying the lessons learned–and tools–from those days and building upon them. That’s the key to getting an “A” on this latest BYO test.

About the Author:

Joe Kim, EVP, is the Engineering and Global CTO for SolarWinds.