When IT gets personal

When IT gets personal

Wi-Fi, smartphones and now Facebook are swamping the office environment. IT chiefs share how they deal with the rising tide of consumer gadgets.

THE SCENARIO Your organisation is awash with consumer devices paid for out of executive hip pockets. Nearly everyone has jumped on the smartphone bandwagon, inundating the IT department with requests to link to corporate email accounts. How do you handle this? Do you say "no" and risk being looked on as an enemy of change or reluctantly agree to connect all and sundry to make the IT department the best friend of consumer devices? Business case or not, would you oblige?

Peter Nikoletatos

Chief information officer, University of Newcastle

It is almost impossible today to have a discussion about a mobile enterprise that doesn't include the topic of accessing email and calendaring services anywhere, anytime. The traditional view has been that laptops with wireless technology are the most efficient devices for a mobile workforce, however recent studies show that so-called "smartphones" are a far superior solution.

At the University of Newcastle (UoN), the introduction of BlackBerry technology has provided a demonstrable benefit in terms of access to key information for our senior staff. For example, during the June 2007 long weekend storms that resulted in major flood damage to infrastructure inter alia, the UoN relied on this technology for a significant part of managing critical communications.

The growing integration of mobile and wireless technologies into every aspect of life - home, office, home office, family, car and recreation - presents both risks and opportunities for any organisation. Mobile technologies such as Wi-Fi, smartphones, mobile wireless-enabled PDAs, as well as software such as Google Desktop and Skype, have steadily crept into organisations' standard operating environment. The tide has also turned on integrating social network tools such as Facebook and MySpace. Failure to adapt to this change is like sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will all pass over. It won't. We live in exponential times.

There is no doubt that these solutions come with challenges and in the mobile world security is a major concern. IT has to consider not only physical security but also the security of wireless connections and applications. The bad news is that IT will be unable to make every user happy. Some organisations will lock down their networks; we will embrace it with some caution. There are advantages to either approach, and there's no right answer.

If your organisation does not already have a mobile policy, then a priority will be to develop a clear and simple policy for mobile computing. It should answer the basic questions of who gets which devices and services. A recent article suggested that users should be involved in developing this policy, with surveys and other types of feedback integral to the process. A mobile policy should provide a menu of options that gives users what they want in a way that is, in effect, self-regulating. This approach has real benefits in terms of sharing accountability of change.

I recently read an article which argued that simply prohibiting consumer technology in the workplace is unrealistic, unverifiable and naive. Simply banning consumer tools is also counterproductive. My primary concern is that prevention will stifle innovation, so we should educate our employees about the risks, define policies and be prepared to invest promptly in solutions when users discover valuable applications.

Peter Campbell

Chief information officer, Sparke Helmore

Someone recently said to our help desk, "Go on, just connect it up, it won't take much time to get it working and I promise it won't cause any problems". It didn't cause any problems or use any resources because we didn't connect it.

If we allowed personal devices to be connected to our corporate email accounts then we would need to package it up so it could be presented as a professional service to the firm. That would include elements such as device recommendations, security analysis and controls, support staff training, service-level agreements and cheat sheets/user guides.

There is an ever expanding variety of devices available that would require different degrees of IT literacy to get the best out of them. Our main internal client base - lawyers - have a low threshold for risk in terms of security and timeliness. So we would want to make sure whatever solution we deployed was universally reliable, robust and secure end-to-end.

It comes down to what the business really needs. In our case we need emails, calendar, tasks and contacts synchronised with the corporate network and the ability to remotely wipe a device if we lose it. We also need the service to run reliably and efficiently on a platform that supports expansion into other applications like recording time, access to our documents and digital dictation. We don't want to spend too much time and money managing it so we use BlackBerrys to meet these needs.

There's no doubt that with the advent of Web 2.0 and a bunch of handy gizmos and gadgets, people are becoming more demanding of applications and features. The reasons we don't implement a lot of these early on are cost of ownership, service certainty and risk. The latest BlackBerrys now provide a lot of those "nice to haves" as part of a package that can be managed appropriately in the enterprise context.

No doubt, over time, the corporate world will have to embrace more of these consumer devices, applications and services. The enterprise will only react to them when there is an overall positive return on investment for changing the way we treat these devices and applications.

In my opinion, if the device manufacturers want to sell more devices they will close the gap between the cost/risk of deployment and the benefits by making them and the supporting systems more enterprise ready.

I can see a lot of benefits down the track particularly in the area of making corporate applications easier to use, helping foster better work/life balance and improving the way we interact with each other using unified communications. There's a lot that enterprise application vendors can learn from the way consumer applications are being developed and deployed. For us, right now, we're OK with what we've got.

The key will be to keep on top of what's happening and predict the timing of the tipping point that will inevitably come. It is our responsibility as IT leaders to position our business to take advantage of these changes when the time is right.

John Ansley

Asia-Pacific informatics head, Roche Pharmaceuticals

Put yourself in charge of the family IT budget and try to deal with the following:

Dad wants to have a BlackBerry to deal with business emails and he wants it to be with carrier A as everyone else has a black spot at his "all time" fishing spot.

Unfortunately, the only model he likes is big and clunky so he (delicate petal that he is) will need a separate handset for phone calls. He likes Nokias, and wants it to be rugged but small.

Mum wants to have an Apple 3G iPhone because she is in the software game industry and needs to be seen as "with it". Her preferred carrier is B as it has better roaming in South Korea and Japan.

Billy works in fashion and wants the latest Prada LG phone because "well, like, pleeeaasse he can't be seen with anything too geeky". The only carrier offering this is X.

Suzy wants to be seen as old school, so she wants a pager which can only be bought through vendor Y.

Everyone agrees on one thing - they all need software loaded on their computers so they can synchronise to devices, update handset/pager firmware.

Dad has the latest in 32-bit laptop technology running Windows Vista 7.

Mum has an old Mac Plus she can't bear to part with but it has no USB ports.

Billy has no computer at home and is working on a thin client machine at work and everything needs to be approved by the IT engineers, signed in triplicate then tested by the risk department before being "introduced to the environment".

Suzy is trying to figure out how to get her ham radio to talk to her pager and thinks Morse code could be the answer.

Dad has decided that to keep his Russian skills up he wants to have his BlackBerry and his laptop set up in that language.

Mum doesn't want a repeat of that embarrassing time when Billy read "those emails" from her friend George so she has decided to use Korean on her phone and Pig Latin on her Mac Plus.

Nobody can understand Billy anyway and Suzy keeps saying dot dash dash dot dot...

Are you getting the picture? Where is the value?

There is a need to keep things aligned so that everything and everyone is capable of existing harmoniously. Pick a target smartphone, ensure it will work in your environment, make it the standard, negotiate a great deal with your preferred carrier (and make sure that it includes handsets and monthly voice and data charges) and then let people know that that is it for the next two to three years.

Fairfax Business Media

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