Consumer Devices Are Coming: People, Get Ready!

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The flood gates have opened. Companies like Disney Studios, Genentech, Intel and Thomson Reuters have opened the gates to allow employees to connect personal devices to the corporate network. According to IDC, the flood will continue with an estimated 1 billion connected mobile devices by 2013.

But so far the anticipated flood has been manageable according to a panel of chief information and chief technology officers of these companies thanks to planning and policies that are being put in place.

The consumerization of IT is a growing force as employees experience the functionality, ease-of-use and bandwidth of consumer devices and desire to have similar benefits inside the firewall. As acknowledged by a CIO panel at the recent Intel Developer Forum (IDF), many companies have now embraced the idea of allowing employees to connect a personal smart device to the corporate network for a variety of reasons that include improved productivity and employee morale.

Although it’s hard to get the ROI to justify opening the doors to consumer devices, CIO Diane Bryant said that Intel employees self-report a 30 minute increase in daily productivity from just getting email and the corporate calendar on their smart phones.

While corporate calendars and email are the basic functionality that employees ask for, these CIOs acknowledge that their customers are getting more demanding and increasing in their expectations as they see the consumer apps market growing and mobile devices getting smarter and cheaper.

Blending Our Personal and Corporate Life

Greg Brandeau, CTO of Disney Studios, noted that he is feeling the pressure from his company’s employees for a heterogeneous environment that better blends their corporate and personal lives.

“This enterprise vs. consumer separation is killing us,” agreed Intel CIO Diane Bryant. “We’re living in a blurred world, but our technologies are segmented.”

This blurring of personal and business life is also exemplified by CIO Todd Pierce’s explanation that the two busiest hours for Genentech network traffic are 10 to 11 p.m. and 6 to 7 a.m.

CIO Walter Oswald of Motorola Mobility said that the explosion of mobile consumer devices is providing a familiar mobile platform for getting just-in-time information that this new class of prosumers need. CIO Kelli Crane of Thomson Reuters adds that the philosophy of allowing personal devices is a great recruiting tool as new graduates compare the IT policies of various companies.

Genentech supports both iPhone and Blackberry devices. Disney Studios allows these plus Android devices. Intel and Thomson Reuters aim to embrace all devices. “If we can take advantage of the devices, why not?” asked Bryant. But all the companies agreed that there had to be policies in place that would provide the consumer ease-of-use and ubiquitous access with the need for corporate security.

Policies to Protect the Corporate Assets

With Q1 2010 setting a record for malware and attacks on the environment, the panel agreed that the appropriate security model and employee ownership are critical. Certain corporate assets and intellectual properties may never venture beyond the corporate firewall—Toy Story 3 from Disney or drug testing results from Genentech or Intel processor designs were cited as examples.

“We are no longer in an environment where security is a binary secure/not secure,” explained Pierce. “Certain content is regulated and isn’t free to go where it wants to go.”

Once policies are established around which content is appropriate for which devices in which locations, then IT can work to build the infrastructure to deliver the appropriate web services and content.

Proof of Concept

Intel IT presented the results of a recent proof of concept they conducted to get experience with such an infrastructure. Plus they wanted to demonstrate that corporate information could be delivered so that the user would have the freedom to securely consume the content on any device they wished as they went about their day.

They chose to land an enterprise calendar on three different smart consumer devices—a phone, an in-vehicle system and a TV—and adhere to the native device look and feel for interaction with the user.

The team encountered a number of platform challenges including a lack of a common development framework, proprietary OSs, multiple app stores, and adhering to the device look and feel and user interaction model.

From a security standpoint, they were in new territory with the non-IT supported devices. Lack of web services to enable corporate systems to abstract complexity from the users and the need for applications to be context aware were among the primary challenges for porting applications.

The researchers concluded that IT can best prepare for this paradigm shift by providing requirements and priorities to the vendors, abstracting IT data and applications to function in diverse environments, and moving to cloud based-services over time. Additionally, there needs to be a common development framework across the devices. Without it, the challenge for IT is enormous and costly.

Enabling Device-Independent Mobility with Dynamic Virtual Clients, a white paper from Intel IT, describes related research Intel conducted on this topic. The paper explains how abstracting the traditional corporate build environment from the underlying hardware platform into layers—OS, applications, user data, and user-specific settings—would deliver a stateless computing model (that can be fundamental to cloud computing).

Bringing the End-User to the Table

When employees bring in their personal devices, these leading IT organizations have established policies that protect and secure corporate assets. Employees are asked to sign an End User License Agreement (EULA) like the agreement that must be accepted to download new software. The agreement specifies the responsibility of the employee and gives corporate IT the right to wipe a device, limit what is downloaded and even break a device if the device is lost.

“We may have to limit the amount of data we push to the device,” explains Bryant. “This is one of the reasons we are going to a more complex tiered security model that protects the data at the endpoint.”

Apps, Apps and More Apps

A primary driver in the increased consumer adoption of devices is the rapid growth in the availability of apps. The iPhone, with over 200,000 apps, has set the pace and increased expectations with applications available for numerous categories including productivity apps. The availability of Android apps is also growing rapidly.

At IDF this year, Intel announced the Intel AppUP(SM) Center with apps optimized for netbooks and devices built on the Intel Atom processor. The new site initially includes support from Asus, Best Buy, Croma and Dixons.

While the initial focus for all of these approaches is the consumer audience, the CIOs acknowledge corporate hunger for “bite-sized” or “snackable” apps for their employees. But they don’t want to have to deal with multiple apps stores and think that a successful model for the enterprise is wanting.

Preparing for the Flood

In summary, the CIOs believe that IT should be prepared for the inevitable flood of consumer devices. Provide requirements and priorities to the device manufacturers, the software developers and the app store marketers. Plan to abstract your data and applications to function in diverse environments. Learn about cloud based-services to better prepare for this paradigm shift. Oh, and grab your surf boards and hang on tight because the big wave is coming.

Matthew Stibbe is writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing. He is also an avid blogger, closet geek and HP fanatic.

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