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Mobile on the move - The personal device also means business

Editor's Note: Rick Roy and Brent Leland are on the advisory board member for the 2012 Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium on March 7-8, 2012. Steve Krenz will be one of the speakers.


The use of mobile devices is spreading across companies as employees and executives find they improve efficiency, especially for people who work outside the office, such as sales staff and insurance adjusters.

About half the 5,000 employees of CUNA Mutual Group use smart phones, said Rick Roy, CIO at the Madison-based firm which provides insurance to credit unions and their members across the country. He estimates 80 percent use iPhones or Androids, split about evenly, and the other 20 percent use BlackBerry. Employees can also use iPads and notebooks to view products.

“Adjusters are a good example of an audience who use smart phones and laptops extensively with robust Windows-based applications to record information.”

For several years the only mobile phone permitted was the BlackBerry, but faced with the widespread popularity of smart phones, the company developed a broader catalog of the devices it allows to connect to the network.
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“It has definitely driven the security guys nuts and given me a few more gray hairs and it makes the environment more complex.

As smart phones were exploding, CUNA’s policy of any device as long as it was a BlackBerry, seemed outdated.

When the company offered employees a range of smart phones, it received national coverage among insurance magazines.

“As soon as we went to a choice of device and standardized the security, the satisfaction of employees went way up.” When it comes to laptops, CUNA echoes Henry Ford -- employees can have any color as long as it’s black. The company limits company purchases to three models of Lenovo to contain costs. Users who want to buy their own, or log in from a Mac at home, can do so through the company’s virtual desktop.

The technology improves speed and morale.

It also monitors network traffic and scans all data transfers with a data loss prevention package to ensure private data isn’t downloaded to a mobile device or USB drive.

“We monitor raw data as well; If someone started a mass download, it would be flagged pretty quick."

"All this mobility is really exciting,” Roy added. “The innovation curve is vertical and that forces us to go buy new stuff to know what is possible.” He and his two college age kids have been known to hang out at Madison’s Apple store.

CUNA’s experience with mobile would not surprise Steve Krenz, program director for IT service management at Compuware.

Companies like mobile. Sales people like mobile. Engineers tracking parts for assembly like mobile. Consumers like mobile, said Krenz, who is presenting at the Fusion 2012 CEO-CIO Symposium sponsored by WTN Media on “Moving Target: What Mobile Demands Today.”

Nobody ever turns back from mobile and says they’d rather stick to a desktop PC or call an 800 number.

Krenz, said the first challenge for companies which want to link their back office systems to mobile phones or tablets is defining, as narrowly as possible, what the user in the field or the consumer needs to access.

Narrowing down the critical features they want to make accessible to mobile users, that makes delivery much easier. If the list of features is too big, the link is slow and kludgy, he added, and the mobile version of the application takes longer to deliver.

The most popular applications for mobile are CRM, often delivered with salesforce.com, engineering, inventory controls and point of sales applications that can check inventory to see if an item is in stock. For just in time (JIT) manufacturing, the inventory checks are vital. The application has to understand the company’s JIT architecture, status of product delivery and a direct access point to understand where their components and products are to engineer a holistic solution.

Typical mobile applications link to a back office. Companies avoid running mobile from cloud because of concerns about performance. Users expect to see their information in under a second, stretching to 3 to 5 seconds for some complex business information, and cloud providers typically won’t offer any service level agreements to cover performance. Amazon, Microsoft and Google all write their service level agreements to protect themselves, he said.

Compuware is also receiving inquiries on point of sales -- direct customer applications to take cash or credit cards. Most of that has been on mobile phones, but requests for applications to run on tablets have been rising fast.

Security is always a concern, especially when the mobile application ties into point of sale transactions.

Joe Nocera, a principal at PWC who works on mobile security, said companies are becoming more comfortable with smartphones, especially as they see they aren’t much different from laptops when it comes to security.

“Now it is on everybody’s agenda. In the past we saw organizations dragging their feet, saying no, it was too risky. But ultimately customer relationship folks in the field or senior executives were finding ways to use them, so now companies are moving from ‘No’ to ‘Yes, but.’ That usually involves a mobile device management solution that resides on the mobile device and can check its adherence to company security configuration requirements before letting it connect to the network.”

Phones get lost, but so do laptops, he added.

“It is simply a new technology and we need to treat it like a typical computing device.” Firms need to understand the information they have and what is allowed on portable devices.

Mobile phone features offer some ways to enhance security. A security applications on the device could use GPS to confirm a mobile phone user’s location and perhaps use the camera for a thumb print or facial recognition, he said.

The increasingly globalization of business seems to move in synch with mobile at some companies. Brent Leland, CIO at Trek Bicycle Corp., now thinks in terms of work-life integration, rather than work-life balance.

“We operate 24x7 and get messages 24 hours a day, and that is driven partly by some of the mobile which is changing the landscape.” The company has some employees working on Asian projects who keep an Asian schedule working from home.

Mixing business and personal uses on a smart phone may become even easier, and more effective, with VMware’s announcement in Barcelona of a virtualization platform that will allow one Android phone to run separate business and personal profiles and applications on one device.

“We saw a along stretch where a lot of technologies were driven by the companies’ developing business solutions. now we are seeing consumer technologies that leapfrogged and are being adopted back into the business - like mobile, Twitter and Facebook.

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