ZIFFPAGE TITLEUpgrading Portability

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2006-05-06 Print this article Print

A Baseline survey shows that spending on mobile computing is on the rise. The top goal: getting data out to—and back from—remote workers faster.

Upgrading Portability

For companies already broadly using mobile technologies, the goal is to improve on the status quo.

State Farm Insurance, for example, this year is upgrading the wireless data radios in the laptops of State Farm's claims workers to provide faster connection speeds. Most of those workers connect to wide-area Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks, such as those operated by Sprint, to file reports from the scene of accidents or fires. CDMA technology transmits signals simultaneously over a shared portion of the wireless spectrum.

The Bloomington, Ill., insurance carrier is replacing the first-generation CDMA cards with those that can also connect to the newest Evolution Data Optimized (EV-DO) networks, which provide more than 20 times the bandwidth with download speeds of up to 3 million bits per second. That will, ideally, help claims workers do their jobs faster, says Darrell Sims, a systems analyst at State Farm.

Sims' biggest challenge is making that change for a workforce scattered across the U.S. and Canada: Wireless technologies are used by many of State Farm's 120,000 employees and agents. He estimates that the upgrade to EV-DO will take more than a year. "It's hard to turn on a dime if we want to change the kind of [mobile] hardware we're using," he says.

For others, security is a chief concern. The highest percentage of survey respondents (22%) said data security is their top challenge with mobile computing. In second place, at 19%, was managing devices.

At Integris Health, which operates 11 hospitals in and around Oklahoma City, some doctors carry their own personal digital assistants to keep track of appointments or patient information. But Randy Maib, senior information-technology consultant at the company, says the data on those Palm or Microsoft Pocket PC devices could have been viewed by someone who wasn't allowed to see it.

"Doctors were just leaving PDAs lying around," he says. "Anybody could just pick one up and see what was on it." Such a security breach could have violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which prohibits unauthorized disclosure of patient records.

To provide authentication and encryption for doctors' personal devices—about 275 of which are currently in use at Integris—Maib decided to use software from Credant Technologies that enforces policies about how data is stored and accessed.

The package includes software that resides on every Windows desktop machine that doctors use to synchronize patient data with handhelds; any time data is downloaded from the desktop computer, the Credant system requires an additional "shield" to be loaded on the portable device. The shield software encrypts the data on the PDA and requires the user to enter a numeric password to gain access to its functions.

That annoyed some doctors. "We got some pushback from physicians who complained that they didn't want to load this onto their handhelds," Maib says. But he and his team explained that the policy is needed as part of meeting HIPAA requirements. "We're looking at this from the perspective of protecting data that's mobile, rather than protecting users or the devices themselves," he says.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.