IBM i Mobile Apps Challenged By BYOD Management
March 17, 2014 Dan Burger
Five C-level executives sit down to have a conversation about implementing mobile computing. Each one has his or her unique experiences. Some are under way with mobile projects, some are yet to begin, but have made mobile a priority. All are eager to share stories and compare notes on what has worked and what has not. And all of them come from companies that run their businesses on IBM i.
One of them was responsible for bringing the group together to discuss mobile strategies, mobile device management, mobile application development, security, and the assorted and sundry challenges that can cause a person to wake up in the middle of the night sweating like a mouse in a box of rattlesnakes. The ringleader is Roxanne Reynolds-Lair and this is somewhat of a dress rehearsal for the IT Executive Conference that she puts together each year.
Mobile computing is a topic that demonstrates the power of a panel consisting of people on the front lines of making decisions and getting things done. Executives appreciate the reality-based information. If there is one thing it lacks, it is salesmanship and bias. (Okay that is two things.) It is not something that is missed.
For the benefit of this IT Jungle article, Lair put together a virtual panel, (also known sometimes as a conference call) to discuss mobile computing, a re-creation of a very popular session from the 2013 Executive Conference. The panel members were Carl Novit, Rachele Hockert, Phil McCullough, Todd Spight, and Lair. Company names are not being identified because not everyone was comfortable with that, believing they can speak more openly when employers remain anonymous.
Among this group, all had mobile access to corporate email, which on most surveys would qualify for implanting a mobile solution, but was barely mentioned in these talks. Everyone assumed mobile email capabilities were standard operating procedures and this discussion would move beyond that first step.
Application development for mobile is a much talked about topic and often written about as well. See the Related Stories listing at the end of this article for proof of that. But in this conversation it barely received a mention.
Mobile device management, bring your own device, and the related security presented the biggest challenges to those who were setting a mobile agenda and also was recognized by those with some mobile experience. Bring your own device (BYOD) raises the degree of management difficulty, particularly in smaller companies where staffing is already stretched to the breaking point.
The widespread impacts of BYOD have led to mobile device management products, but functionality remains limited and the integration of the digital technology with the physical systems and business processes of a company are much more than a technology solution. That’s where collaboration plays a key role.
Lair has the most advanced mobile deployment. Her users are students with the gamut of mobile devices accessing information on grades, class schedules, calendar of events, and other information. Their access and authentication goes through a portal, which serves as a device management control. Feedback from the students has been positive and Lair is pleased with the level of control. However, she also noted that a rollout of 75 iPads to staff members would require a separate level of mobile device management beyond the lock down capabilities now in place.
Novit’s company is in the food service, supply, and equipment business. His mobile project involved 100 percent Windows-based tablets with all management policies established by the domain, which is good enough for the time being, he says. His capabilities include being able to wipe the tablet clean if it is lost or stolen or if an employee leaves the company. The mobile application is a work order used by technicians who previously filled out the work orders by hand. The tablets are also set up to send and receive email.
On a separate issue, Novit recalled the BYOB challenge brought on by sales people who wanted the freedom to buy different devices for email. His company uses Traveler to pump out emails, which supports Android, iPhone, BlackBerry devices. But complications for a small IT department to handle support calls for these devices and the varying operating systems depending on the newness of the device led Novit to decide the company would only support the iPhone. It was the easiest to support, he said.
The mobile device management aspects have caused Hockert’s company to delay deployment until it has policies in place.
Moving data outside the safety of the IBM i and having synchronous communication is a risk that troubles Spight, and coming to grips with this security risk has slowed down the mobile project at his company.
McCullough began the mobile efforts for his employer three years ago with 28 iPads for the board of trustees. Device management is provided by Microsoft Exchange Server, but no corporate database information is passed to these devices. A separate group of users–high-level staff working from home and accessing the company network–create a different risk. In this case, the company relies on its firewall and its virtual private network to identify the users and the machines that are coming into the network. McCullough recommended Wireless Intruder Prevention a separate system that recognizes rogue devices and provides protection against outsiders logging on to the network. Auditors love it, he says.
As a side note, you will find a separate article in this issue of The Four Hundred, that notes IBM has just released a report based on a survey of CIOs. One of the interesting insights from that report was that two-thirds of C-suite executives (4,200 in the sample) said they had no mobile strategy or a limited mobile strategy. Much of what is going on in mobile computing is still in the experimental stages for a lot of companies. That would seem to indicate that more discussions among executives–like this panel discussion session–is a worthwhile endeavor toward increasing collaboration and emphasizing strategic decision making.
The group discussion approach to a topic results is an interesting exchange of knowledge and for many people presents an enhanced learning process. Lair, who has attended and made presentations at more conferences than most of us, is an advocate for collaborative processes, when people are more engaged in a discussion. To a large degree the IT Executive Conference that she organizes for the COMMON user group, with a sizeable contribution of time and effort from Novit, relies on active participation in discussions. She insists that executive level participants expect this and are much more likely to gain from attending this type of event. Discussions that begin in a specific sessions tend to continue throughout the length of the conference.
The IT Executive Conference is scheduled for May 4 through 6 in Orlando, Florida. It runs in parallel with the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition. Details of the session agenda and conference registration can be found at this website.