How IBM manages 80,000 bring-your-own devices

Post by Chris Kanaracus (thank you) on IBM’s BYOD strategy

IBM CIO Jeanette Horan has plenty of IT projects and systems to worry about, but perhaps one of the most pressing and timely is Big Blue’s ongoing BYOD (bring your own device) rollout, which is aimed at including all of the company’s 440,000 employees over time.

The IBM workforce is “hugely mobile,” with many working at client sites, home offices, and other locations outside corporate buildings, Horan said in a recent interview at IBM’s office in Cambridge, Mass. IBM has long had a corporate managed mobile phone plan that historically has focused on BlackBerrys, she said.

But over time, more iPhones and other devices began cropping up in the workforce, and IBM decided it was time to get in front of the issue, Horan said. “If we didn’t support them, we figured they would figure out how to support [the devices] themselves,” a no-no given the amount and nature of corporate information potentially at risk.

IBM’s BYOD program “really is about supporting employees in the way they want to work,” Horan said. “They will find the most appropriate tool to get their job done. I want to make sure I can enable them to do that, but in a way that safeguards the integrity of our business.”

To that end, the company has issued a series of “secure computing guidelines” to employees in an effort to raise awareness of online security and the sensitive nature of corporate data, Horan said.

So far, about 120,000 users are accessing IBM’s network through mobile devices, and of that total, 80,000 are supplying the device and paying the monthly service fees, according to IBM spokesman Tim O’Malley. The remaining 40,000 are using smartphones issued by IBM. The company has an “aggressive” projection for growth for this year, although a specific figure wasn’t available, O’Malley said.

One component of the BYOD program is IBM’s own Lotus Traveler, which provides a native client application through which mobile users can tap Lotus email and calendar functionality. IBM is also evaluating VPN (virtual private network) technology to provide greater security and support for more mobile applications.

IBM is also building “fit for business” takes on consumer-friendly applications like the popular cloud file-hosting service Dropbox, Horan said. An IBM application with Dropbox-like functions is already up and running with some users. “We’re encouraging people to try it,” she said.

Horan’s staff is managing mobile devices with IBM’s Tivoli Endpoint Manager platform. This also allows IBM to wipe devices in the event they are lost or stolen, or if the employee leaves the company.

Employees who want to use their own devices have to agree to Horan’s policies, which include that their device be wiped once they leave the company, she said.

While IBM could use secure containers to deploy applications to users’ devices, enabling it to wipe just the container and not the entire device, that option hasn’t been used so far, Horan said. She is looking forward to the broad availability of mobile hypervisors that would allow devices to run separate OSes and related applications for corporate and personal use.

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