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Mobile solutions

Mobile solutions

Remote access is no longer regarded as advanced technology but rather, a given lifestyle option. At a recent MIS round table, IT leaders discuss the challenges of creating a flexible work environment.

Round the table: * Denildo Albuquerque, general manager IT, Fairfax Media

* Gordon Dunsford, chief information officer, TransGrid

* David Fryda, chief information officer, Tyco Fire & Security

* Nigel Gore, senior manager, ThinkPad, Lenovo AP/Japan

* Glen Hickey, information technology director, Calliden Group

* Chris Holmes, director business technology services, Allens Arthur Robinson

* Chris Jenkins, online editor, MISaustralia.com

* Stephen Kowal, CIO and director of business excellence, CSC Australia

* Kevin McIsaac, analyst, Intelligent Business Research Services

* Ross Owen, national sales manager, Intel

* Eric Robertson, IT operations manager, Blake Dawson Waldron

* Paul Smith, editor, MIS Australia - moderator

* Stephen Wilson, CIO, NSW Department of Education and Training

Current mobility set-up

Eric Robertson: We have a fairly large mobile fleet. Of our 2000 staff, we have some 700 who run laptops because they're out and about a lot. We have a fairly good remote solution but we're looking at how we can enhance that. We're looking at things such as telephony and how we manage that better. We want our users to have a more "in-office" experience.

Chris Holmes: We have a fairly mature remote working capability. We call it "inside out". We try to run a borderless network as much as we can.

David Fryda: We're more into field-based service. That's where we've been exploring technology over the past two years, with PDA-type devices for service technicians to get details of the jobs they're working on in the field. [This is] both on the fire side of the business, where we service fixed and portable equipment, and on the security side. Our first venture on the security side is in New Zealand, where we have a cash-in-transit business, and we're using PDA-style technology to get information about the cash parcels that we're picking up and taking on account of our customers.

Denildo Albuquerque: We just finished a pilot for a type of video device, for the photo-graphers and recorders, and we ended up selecting a device called JasJams.

We have a major interest in changing the strategy. Our policy on mobility is very strict on access to Fairfax's network. People using laptops or desktops at home, for example, have to have an ADSL connection or they have to have Fairfax equipment. As you can imagine, the cost is very high.

Mobility drivers and inhibitors

Stephen Wilson: At the NSW Department of Education and Training, most of my customers don't think of mobility as technology; it's just part of their lives. What we're trying to do after the next four years is integrate technology into the everyday practice of learners and teachers in NSW.

The internet is what binds all devices together and we're looking at engines such as some of the Adobe AIR or Microsoft Silverlight-type platforms, that are cross-platform extensions to an internet browser, to deliver what we want to do. I think that's the way of the future.

Nigel Gore: With mobility and freedom of access, you'll probably find most people work from home once or twice a week.

Stephen Kowal: It depends on the manager. Some managers like to see and touch base with everyone, which is interesting if you're in a global company. Others are very comfortable with staff working remotely and they have the right measurements in place.

Kevin McIsaac: I think it comes down to whether you can put measures in place. When I was an analyst, my manager was in the United States. I worked from home and there were two key metrics that I had to meet every month. They were quite easily measured - did I submit my research and did I call 20 customers and speak to them?

If I met those requirements, they didn't really care whether I worked 60-hour weeks or 10-hour weeks. But I think it requires progressive management and changing leadership styles.

Stephen Kowal: A problem is that there are some jobs that you can't actually put those metrics around. There are some jobs that are about human interaction.

Paul Smith: So can businesses use mobile technology as a way of tackling the skills shortage? Saying, "We've got a flexible workforce and we're a good place to work?"

Chris Holmes: It can be absolutely critical and central to a recruitment strategy.

Kevin McIsaac: There is an old study that shows that an employee with a laptop who takes it home works on average somewhere between two and four hours a week more than every other worker.

Internal decision-making

Eric Robertson: In our environment, there are 180 owners who all have a view of what the right solution is and they'll assert that at various points. It can be quite challenging to find the right balance that meets the needs without just pandering to individuals.

Stephen Kowal: The management team decides on the investment and, to a great extent, the CIO is responsible for execution and validation in the management team of doability.

Kevin McIsaac: The problem I've always had in speaking to people about mobility is that there are two very distinct styles.

One is about providing a knowledge worker with a knowledge-worker environment; so that would be more like your engineers going out with a laptop, or your staff going out with a laptop. A subset of that could be that we just want email and so forth for sales calls.

The other one, that I've seen quite a few people doing very successfully, is task-specific mobility. This is all about taking a very specific business process mobile. In this second case, responsibility probably lies with the business unit that owns the task.

David Fryda: In that case, it's with the general managers of the business unit and they've been the ones driving it, although I'm the one that brings the new trends or the new technologies to the table.

While IT is the one that typically brings the new trends or the new technologies to the table, I'll often get requests for new devices from executives who've seen someone with the latest and greatest. That situation is far less strategic than in the case of the purpose worker who's out in the field and needs to be able to communicate with one of our core systems.

Improving the experience

Glen Hickey: We went from mobile to portable and that was a big step, and I'm not sure that we've actually got the mobile to portable in a device yet, where we can flick it out and use it quickly. Opening a laptop, logging on, getting going is all painful.

It's like Coca-Cola; their distribution vision is someone says, "I feel thirsty", and wow, there's a Coke. That's what mobile computing has to be. I need contact, wow, there it is. We're still not there.

Kevin McIsaac: I'd agree with you in regard to Windows-based laptops. You're absolutely right; it takes far too long to start up. But it's not true if you're using BlackBerry. It's not true. I saw some very good examples of mobile application in New Zealand, where a few engineers jumped the fence. They go and read a meter and they just use a mobile phone.

They take a photograph of it or they log in to a webpage. Those things are very instant, so I think you're absolutely right, we do have that need but that's a specific problem to do with Windows.

Control and security

Denildo Albuquerque: We realised very soon that one model doesn't fit everyone - and we had so many different roles within Fairfax - and we are basically going back and revisiting our policy.

The question is how we can allow people with their own devices to access information as if they were in the office, in a secure manner, to ensure that they have the proper antivirus application running, and the patch management done and up-to-scratch?

Right now, the only way we can guarantee that is by installing our equipment, which is not really a mobile type of solution because we have 5000 users.

Chris Holmes: The authentication of who the user is and how awkward that is - that was the divider for us. We looked at several forms of biometrics - fingerprints and other physical characteristic recognition options - that were quite cute but didn't help a great deal. We use secure ID codes and we found all of the other things to be too flaky and experienced user resistance.

Kevin McIsaac: So you actually started with that idea that the perimeter was the computer room and you found that that was too hard to do?

Chris Holmes: We couldn't get sufficiently strong authentication that was also friendly enough. The step that you have to go through to get strong two-factor authentication is just too hard.

Nigel Gore: Security is one of the stumbling blocks to mobility because you're taking your valuable data inside your buildings and then you move it outside. We're talking about data theft, or actual asset theft.

Glen Hickey: If you have a key executive whose laptop is pinched out of the back of his car, or his car is stolen with the laptop in it, then you need reassurance that whoever has taken it is not going to be able to access it.

Stephen Wilson: Access control is complex because it's a shared environment, but in order to access the internet, anyone on our system who isn't in a corporate office has to have a user ID and password and that includes children in kindergarten.

Many of them have difficulty with that. It's one of the first things they learn: if you want to use the computer, you have to remember a user ID and a password - and it gets stronger as they go through the system.

I wish I could say that it was entirely successful. We get 30,000 password-change requests every day and as that cascades through our various systems, it creates about 350,000 different password changes.

It's a moveable feast. We're looking all the time at how to make certain that access to our devices and to our internet is secure. We have a pretty sophisticated intrusion-detection environment, but a lot of the time, attacks on our network come from within.

Mobile efficiency

Stephen Kowal: We break our mobility solution into three areas, so we have exec mobility, which, to be frank, is about BlackBerry-type email solutions. Then we have mobile office, which is the majority of the population, and then we have mobile task, which is the engineering.

We look at those three areas very differently. We don't look at business processes so much from the executive end because most executives are email approval orientated, so you can prove online on your BlackBerry.

But at the task end it's very different. We only go mobile if there's a business process improvement. There's no point giving every field service person a mobile device if there's no real business process.

Kevin McIsaac: What sort of business process do you mean?

Stephen Kowal: An example is field service, which is a pretty common service with us. When a field service person goes somewhere, they have to collect data and the more they collect, the better knowledge base your business can build.

And the time-management improvements are obvious, so it is a classic environment for potential mobile efficiency.

In agreement

* Mobility strategy that creates business process change must be co-driven by the organisations's relevant unit head.

* Security concerns continue to be an inhibitor of widespread adoption of mobile devices.

* Mobility offers the potential for workforce flexibility, which in turn can become a tool to help recruit talent.

* Many organisations still have a long way to go before they have a fully developed mobility strategy. Many projects are still in the pilot phase.

* The next generation of employees will expect "technology on the go" as a standard part of their working life.

MIS Australia is a sister publication of CIO New Zealand.

© Fairfax Business Media

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