Make public OS betas work for you

For the first time, Apple will be making a major iOS release available as a public beta. Apple isn’t the only company to offer public betas or previews, but this may be one of the most notable examples.  

Public betas can be useful for a manufacturer like Apple in terms of accelerating feedback and bug fixes during the development process. They can be exciting for users that want to play with the new features of an upcoming OS before everyone else.

They can pose challenges for IT, however, if beta testers install on their primary devices that they use for work because they are pre-release software. Bugs, issues with existing apps, and confusion about new or altered functionality are often part of the beta testing experience.  If users install on the primary device they use for work, this can cause support calls as well as employee downtime if they can’t access core tools.

Remind beta testers that they are installing pre-release software

Keep in mind that as mobile OSes have shifted much of the upgrade process to users, it’s likely that you won’t be able to stop users, particularly if they’re installing a device they own.

The best piece of advice here is to advise users that want to sign up as beta testers that they should do so using a secondary device instead of one they rely on for critical work and personal tasks.

Crafting a nuanced message is key, one that actually describes the challenges that they may encounter in a friendly, advisory manner yet doesn’t alienate anyone that wants to be part of a beta program. Explain that they will get to use new features before anyone else but also there may be challenges they’ll encounter that could impact the ability to do their job if they install on their primary device. Also explain the potential impact personal tasks they rely on that device to accomplish.

Keep to the tone of trusted advisor that I discussed earlier this month.

Turning beta testers to your advantage

Some people are still going to want to sign up for a public beta. Like most early adopters, many of these will likely be somewhat tech savvy users, though their savviness may vary. As a result, most organizations will encounter the public beta at some point this summer. Ideally it will be on a secondary device, though some people will probably still install on their primary device.

You can actually recruit these users as beta testers.

As I noted last month, it’s important that IT departments be ready for new technologies to walk in the door the day they’re officially released. That means you have a limited window of opportunity to vet them, test enterprise and key third-party apps with them, and build a knowledge base of issues that your support teams may encounter.

All of that is a tall order to accomplish in the span of a few months with your existing staff and all of it requires testing the beta. If you recruit beta users, they can do much of that testing for you. They can see which apps have issues, which workflows need to change, and report to you any general support issues. That gives you a greater ability to prepare, both in terms of updating apps and in terms of developing support and user-facing resource material.

The approach requires a bit of a culture shift. IT staff will need to develop a close working relationship with these users and will need to actively solicit their input, advice, and feedback. On the flip side, it makes preparing for new technologies easier and allows IT to be better prepared when those technologies are officially released. It also fosters a closer relationship between IT and workers that want to use the latest tech. In the process, it will likely also reduce the prevalence of shadow IT or at least allow you to turn shadow IT to your advantage.

Although I initially mentioned the iOS 9 beta, this principle applies to any public beta or preview that users might install. With the shift to Windows as a service following the release of Windows 10, there’s likelihood that this time next year, you may be considering this concept on a much broader level.

Ryan Faas