BYOD in Minneapolis: Managed Services Cures Headaches

For the City of Minneapolis, turning to a managed services provider to handle its transition to consumer-grade tablets and a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) smartphone policy was something of a fait accompli. The city’s IT organization was already using Unisys to manage its entire IT infrastructure, notes CIO Otto Doll.

“There’s always this question of whether or not you build versus buy, do it in house versus hosted,” says Doll, who was named CIO of Minneapolis in February 2011, after 15 years as the CIO of the State of South Dakota. “[Enterprise mobility] is one of those areas that we feel the industry provides solutions all the way down through management and that was a good way for us to go.”

Doll’s IT organization of 57 people works with Unisys to serve the technology needs of the 3,600 employees of the City of Minneapolis. “Our desktops are all supported by Unisys, we don’t even own the equipment,” says Doll. So, when the city decided it was time to equip employees with iPads, it turned to Unisys to procure and support the devices. At the same time, the city decided to open its network to workers’ personal tablets and smartphones.

As of August 2012, 85 iPads have been procured for city employees, and another 85 workers have brought in their own to use at work. The city also has about 26 field workers in the tax assessor’s office using city-provided Motion Computing tablets.

The city also supports Apple iOS and Android smartphone platforms for employee-owned devices.

Doll says the city’s move toward BYOD all started with recognizing that workers were already using their own PCs at home to access Web mail. Because of that, “People here already have rules and regulations that they adhere to in dealing with sensitive information,” says Doll.

“Those rules and regulations are still there. In the case of tablets and smartphones, we require an employee to abide by some further security measures. The basis for allowing this was the fact that people already sign up to a certain degree of responsibility in dealing with sensitive information in day-in and day-out at work.”

Doll says that tablets, in particular, have improved worker efficiency. He notes that they not only have email access but can access certain work applications, Web-delivered services, and — with VPN in use — access more sensitive application sets and data.

The biggest benefit? Meetings — the bane to every worker’s existence — have become more effective with the use of tablets by being able to immediately access any information required for decision-making.

The fact that Minneapolis has city-wide WiFi available only adds to the effectiveness of tablet computing.

The managed services model alleviates one of the biggest burdens that BYOD and consumerization can inflict on IT: The need to support a growing mobile user base working on a plethora of platforms.

“Managed services really did provide us with a set of opportunities that we may not have necessarily recognized,” says Doll, who notes that providing support for mobile users is not necessarily where he wants to use his in-house resources. Instead, mobile users are supported by the Unisys helpdesk.

So, are there any challenges in embracing BYOD?

Yes. And they mostly come from inside IT.

“This is a cultural shift for the IT world,” says Doll. “You really have to buy into the fact that existing technology is going to be added to, advanced, and there are going to be new things coming down the road. Once you let this bull out of the stall, he’s going to be roaming around and bring friends with him over time.”

Security concerns, in particular, are often used to stand in the way of BYOD advances cases, says Doll. “The first guy in line is my Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) making sure I understand the risk quotient for all this stuff. That’s fair. But you can’t completely lock it down and be successful, and you can’t be completely open because you’d be foolish to allow that much risk into the organization. You have to accept the fact that you’re going to end up someplace in the middle.”

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