"Philosophically, the whole consumerisation of IT movement is a tide we know we can’t stem" - A view from Star
An ongoing and lively debate is taking place in the boardroom of communications specialist Star, says the company’s Chief Commercial Officer Paul Watson.
“Philosophically, the whole consumerisation of IT movement is a tide we know we can’t stem,” says Watson, referring to the continuing conversation amongst the company’s directors. Such executives are attempting to decide whether Star should take the giant step of granting each member of staff a budget to buy their own mobile device from a list of approved providers.
It is a significant transition away from the traditional approach of equipping employees with standard-issue devices of the company’s own choosing. Watson can see both pros and cons to the consumer-led approach. On the plus side, the strategy would probably prove more cost-effective for Star. The challenge, as he sees it, lies in the company’s ability to provide users with the optimum access to business information and services.
That challenge centres around the potential to give employees the best possible experience during working hours, without compromising how devices are used outside working hours. Like other firms, however, Watson and his executives recognise that they have a dilemma that needs solving. And as an entrepreneurial outfit that expects tech-savvy staff to respond rapidly to customer needs and requests, Star faces particular pressures to put the right tools in its individuals’ hands.
Yet Watson knows the company must still select an approach that protects both its customers, and its own information assets. “For us, it is more a case of how we will deal with consumerisation, rather than trying to resist it,” he says. The company has already laid down much of the groundwork for a change in strategy. As much as 150 of the firm’s 250 employees across six sites work in customer-facing roles, around 70 of who regularly use mobile technology. Fast, secure access to information – regardless of location – is the priority for such employees.
And Star provides mobile workers with a company-approved smart phone, typically either an Apple iPhone or a Samsung Android handset
The integrity of corporate information on authorised devices is maintained through secure access. Mobile workers can access customer information over a secure sockets layer virtual private network, a safe technology platform that can be entered via a standard web browser. Employees using a non-standard device, such as a new tablet computer for example, are currently given more restricted access. However, access to email is ubiquitous across all devices. And the company is also about to pilot a new remote desktop for employees, based on a combination of desktop virtualisation technologies from Citrix and Microsoft. Individuals taking part in the trial will be able to use their usual network log in process on any device to access both their personal desktop applications and wider back end corporate systems. All systems accessed during the trial will be held centrally in Star’s data centre and will be under the strict control of the company’s IT team.
Watson says another approach will need to be found if speeds are slow and users run into specific problems regarding application latency. But a successful pilot will illustrate how the right remote desktop project improves the user experience, boosts productivity and solves many of the security issues associated with working flexibly beyond the enterprise firewall. And a successful pilot would also be good news for Star’s customers. Once proven, Watson says the firm will be able to roll out the same technology to clients as an on-demand service. He suggests that a number of customers have already expressed an interest in being able to provide the means to give their staff access to applications and services, regardless of the devices they use. "It’s all about balancing flexibility and risk," he says, referring to the need to match employee demands with desired business outcomes.
Watson recognises that the risks associated to consumerisation and flexibility might still outweigh the benefits for companies that work in highly regulated industries, or who have large numbers of staff working on process- driven tasks. But other CIOs at other firms have an opportunity to push ahead. "Companies that are more dependent on knowledge workers, like Star, seem more prepared to cope with that balance and are consequently closer to the cutting edge," says Watson