Managing Mobility in the Enterprise 800367

 
 
By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2011-01-28
 
 
 

Wander through any major airport, and you’re likely to witness heaping doses of anxiety and stress. Long lines, tight connections and heavy security are enough to push airport workers and the flying public into a free fall.

To deal with this problem, a few years ago, Delta Air Lines began to explore ways to make airports and flying more efficient. One technology it identified as a key component in its IT strategy was mobility. Delta—which carries 160 million passengers per year and provides service to 358 airports in 66 countries— has unleashed a spate of initiatives, including mobile boarding passes for customers, portable agent workstations (PAWs) that gate agents use to create temporary check-in counters, and handheld units that service agents rely on to provide everything from flight information to hotel vouchers.

So far, the mobility initiative is flying high, and there’s no end in sight. “The goal is to give customers options and find ways to become faster and more efficient at airports,” says Tricia Soulimiotis, general manager for passenger service, strategy, technology and alliances at Delta. “Mobile technology eliminates bottlenecks by putting data at the place it’s needed when it’s needed. It creates an alternative to long lines.”

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, Delta is hardly alone. Over the last few years, mobility has come of age. As Andrew Borg, senior research analyst for wireless and mobility at the Aberdeen Group, puts it: “The tsunami has been unleashed. The impact of mobility is enormous— and unstoppable.” Aberdeen reports that more than 98 percent of the businesses it surveys either already have mobility initiatives in place or plan to do so in the future. “It’s increasingly difficult to operate a competitive business without mobile technology,” Borg says.

Of course, organizations must balance the capabilities and promise of the technology with the realities of today’s mobile environment. The number of mobile platforms is on the rise, mobile devices procured by employees are invading the workplace, and managing the tangle of mobile technology and systems—while keeping data secure—is challenging and time-consuming. “It’s important to have a clear strategy and a well-defined plan in place,” Borg explains. “Mobility presents opportunity as well as risk.”

Getting a handle on today’s mobile environment is no simple task. The proliferation of devices (smartphones, tablets, netbooks and laptops) has left more than a few IT managers reeling. Aberdeen reports that the number of mobile operating systems has risen from three to nine in the last few years. What’s more, as the mobile landscape evolves, security is emerging as a core concern—particularly as data crosses company lines and inhabits employees’ personal devices.

It’s no secret that some organizations have taken a deer-inthe- headlights approach and have severely limited the types of mobile and wireless devices that their employees can use. However, resisting mobile adoption is becoming more difficult, and it’s often counterproductive. Dan Shey, practice director, Enterprise group at ABI Research, says that the consumerization of IT is “inevitable,” and organizations must find ways to accommodate workers and customers by supporting multiple devices—all while maintaining control over the environment.

What’s more, a holistic strategy is crucial. Organizations can’t afford to view employee, partner and consumer-facing mobile offerings as separate entities. It’s important to link initiatives and understand how they affect each other. This integrated approach also allows an organization to create greater synergy—and results.

Air Apparent

A well-conceived strategy has lifted Delta Air Lines to greater heights. In 2006, the company unveiled the PAW units. An agent can position a full-service wireless workstation wherever it’s needed to speed check-in or handle other agent functions. These units, typically a computer on wheels, are frequently used to accommodate large groups.

Then, in 2009, the company introduced the agent handheld devices combined with mobile printers. They allow Delta Red Coats and other service agents to roam an airport and handle passenger check-in, flight information, seat assignments, standby lists, boarding, new itineraries and amenities. Agents also can use Motorola MC75 handheld devices to print hotel and meal vouchers on the spot.

Both of these systems provide the airline with greater flexibility—particularly at airports with limited gates and space. The PAW system has been especially useful for checking in tour groups and military personnel, who frequently show up unannounced. The PAWs and agent handhelds have decreased wait times by 50 percent or more.

“As the industry adopts more self-service technology, there’s a greater need to deploy innovative solutions that provide an alternative to standing in long lines for fullservice transactions,” says Delta’s Soulimiotis.

But Delta has also pushed heavily into the consumer arena with mobile technology. It introduced mobile boarding passes in 2008 and created a mobile check-in application for the iPhone in 2010. The e-boarding pass is scanned directly off the phone at the gate.

More than 30 U.S. airports now use the system, and Delta plans to expand it to 15 additional airports by early 2011. In the customer-facing arena, supporting multiple devices and platforms isn’t an option.

“We must support the devices that customers use,” Soulimiotis explains. The company used the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) to develop many of its capabilities. Aberdeen’s Borg says that, in many respects, customerfacing mobility initiatives aren’t fundamentally different from employee-facing initiatives. There’s an overarching need to provide users with the digital tools to accomplish their tasks faster and more efficiently.

Moreover, the line between corporate interaction and customer-facing activity is blurring as data flows to field agents and others who interact with customers directly— often through mobile devices.

Disjointed and disparate mobility initiatives within an organization undermine success, he says. When different departments and operational centers create their own mobile services and tools without regard for what other groups are doing, that drains budget and IT resources, and creates technical and practical difficulties—while ratcheting up security concerns. “Mobility needs to become part of a core IT infrastructure, and it needs to be planned and managed centrally,” Borg says.

Building on Mobile

A centralized approach to mobile management is at the core of design and construction firm Barton Malow’s strategy. The Southfield, Mich., company has a 1,000-person full-time workforce that’s about 80 percent mobile. CIO Phil Go has used laptops and BlackBerrys to connect workers in 11 offices in the United States and one in Mexico.

But the days of relying on a single smartphone platform are numbered, he acknowledges. Already, the company is testing iPads and other tablets, and it’s only a matter of time until employees will carry the smartphone of their choice, Go adds.

Coordinating and managing wireless systems is essential. Some employees use 3G cellular cards to connect to company servers and the Internet; others rely on WiFi connections set up at a building site for the duration of a project, or they use public WiFi hotspots.

Because designers, engineers and others must access data from a variety of sites and situations and the work is highly collaborative, Barton Malow uses Microsoft SharePoint and SonicWALL security appliances to provide VPN and other capabilities. The appliances have provided a high level of manageability and have made provisioning, security and other tasks simpler, Go says.

Another company that has adopted mobility in a major way is Hyatt Hotels. The hospitality giant, with 445 hotels in 45 countries and more than 80,000 employees worldwide, has turned to iPads at its Chicago headquarters and individual properties in order to address a variety of challenges.

Executives increasingly use them as laptop replacements, guests have access to tablets in some rooms and hotel staff members are using them for roving checkouts: They can step out from behind the counter and assist people standing in line. At the tap of a button, the employee can e-mail a receipt or send it to a printer.

But Hyatt’s mobility initiative also involves the usual spate of smartphones and laptops. Employees carry BlackBerrys, iPhones, Droids and Symbian devices, says John Prusnick, director of IT innovation and strategy at Hyatt. The company uses managed-services provider NaviSite to provide a secure messaging and collaboration platform for Lotus Traveler and Notes.

Employees can also enable devices for tethering with a laptop, and some use 4G connections. With an IT staff of only 43, Hyatt can maximize its capabilities without taxing its resources and infrastructure, Prusnick says.

Over the next year, Hyatt plans to introduce a series of applications optimized for the mobile arena. It’s also looking at RFID keys for frequent guests. These would allow such guests to check in via a mobile device, receive a room assignment and open the door without interacting with the front desk.

“It’s important to balance innovation with the practical side of managing devices and ensuring that they work effectively, Prusnick says. “Mobility has become a critical part of the business.”

A Higher Calling

To use mobility successfully, organizations must focus on a key underlying principle, says Clinton Smith, manager of IT risk and compliance for Grant Thornton. “It’s critical to protect the data rather than the device,” he says. “Trying to build the ultimate padlock is both impractical and inefficient. Establishing foundational controls, such as encryption, across all mobile platforms is crucial because the underlying mobile technologies undergo constant change.

A common denominator among companies that successfully tap mobility is the use of enterprise mobility management (EMM) solutions, according to Aberdeen’s Borg. “Executives are beginning to understand that the loss of a device might cost $500, but the loss of the data on the device could expose the organization to well over $1 million of liability,” he points out. “The critical issues revolve around data management, compliance and security.”

EMM can rein in the chaos and ensure that users adhere to software application, device and security policies. These solutions—such as products from BoxTone, Zenprise, MobileIron and Good Technology—address these mobility management issues by providing a robust and extensible framework. The tools enable IT departments to establish and enforce an approved list of devices and applications, and they can help implement consistent security policies.

“The more advanced solutions enforce compliance to IT policy in a granular way,” Borg says. “For example, if you have an app that isn’t compliant with policy, you will be kicked off the network automatically.” These EMM solutions can automate device procurement, manage the mobile infrastructure over its life cycle, and provision and deprovision quickly and effectively.

Within this rapidly changing mobile arena, authentication, encryption, digital rights management (DRM) and endpoint security take on added importance. Training and awareness are also crucial—along with appropriate policies and remote wipe. “Building a secure environment requires a multipronged approach,” Grant Thornton’s Smith says.

A Mobile Philosophy

Managing mobility is at the center of IBM’s philosophy. The computer and consulting giant has nearly 400,000 employees, and an overwhelming percentage of them carry mobile devices.

“We have an overarching goal of making our employees as efficient as possible, and it’s about [being able to work] anywhere at any time,” says Dave Merrill, a security strategist at IBM. “Our work is global, and people are constantly moving across time zones. It’s essential to maintain a good working relationship and collaboration for everyone at IBM.

“The notion of one size fits all, in which everyone gets the same standard laptop and smartphone device, is dead. Mobility is about supporting a wide variety of roles and associated data. It’s about supporting a wider variety of software platforms—Windows, Mac, Linux, various mobile operating systems and virtual platforms—and making sure everything meshes.”

As a result, IBM has adopted a comprehensive, methodical approach to mobile management. Merrill says that the process starts with data classification and identifying roles within the organization. Then it’s a matter of certifying a mobile platform and ensuring that it can accommodate the various data classifications. “Some platforms are more mature than others, and not all platforms have the same capabilities,” he notes.

The company authorizes different devices for different employees, based on whether or not they view sensitive or regulated data. “If a group of employees doesn’t have any restrictions, then they would have access to a wider variety of platforms,” Merrill explains.

The data classification process involves a variety of constituents— including operations, HR and legal—and it extends beyond mobility. IBM maintains a database that tracks all the data. “When we review a device, it’s fairly straightforward to see where it fits in and how people can use it,” Merrill says.

The company also has stringent security controls in place, including Juniper’s Junos Pulse Mobile Security Suite software for malware protection on smartphones and mobile devices. A software agent resides on every device and combines traditional signature-based scanning with behavioral analysis.

IBM also uses enterprise applications, including Lotus Traveler, to encrypt data and provide the required overall level of protection. And it has established an app store where employees can download approved software to approved devices.

Make no mistake, mobility is forcing organizations to re-examine their business and IT practices. Enterprises that take a holistic view and focus on managing devices and data throughout their life cycle are at a distinct advantage.

Grant Thornton’s Smith concludes: “IT must maintain a bigpicture focus that extends beyond data protection. Security is essential, but controlling devices is often perceived as counterproductive to the end user. IT leaders must understand that the technology should serve as an enabler and that the goal, in the end, is to promote productivity through the efficient use of mobility.”