IBM opens up smartphone, tablet support for its workers

Up to 200,000 IBM workers will bring their own phones for work

IBM has embraced -- nearly -- the growing "bring your own device" trend of allowing employees to buy and use their own smartphones and tablets for work tasks, said IBM's CTO for mobility, Bill Bodin.

By the end of the year, 100,000 IBM employees will be able to connect handheld devices of their choosing to IBM's internal networks, which have recently been fortified to provide enhanced mobile security, Bodin said in an interview with Computerworld. Another 100,000 employees will be brought on board in 2012, for a total of 200,000 people, or about half of IBM's global workforce.

Based on recent consumer buying trends, Bodin said he expects that the majority of those 200,000 workers will pick an iPhone, an Android smartphone or a tablet. The employees will pay for their own devices and monthly service plans, but they will receive IBM's guidance and technical support.

Users will also be required to load IBM's agent software on their gear for secure access to IBM's systems, email and other functions.

Initially, IBM workers will have email, contacts and calendar access through IBM Lotus Traveler, Bodin said. In addition to installing agent software on each device, IBM will enhance security through the use of VPNs and by requiring passwords for access to systems. The company will also deploy endpoint management tools that will allow IT managers to wipe data off devices that are lost or stolen.

"We've noticed BYOD [bring your own device] and the consumerization of IT, with devices now becoming more and more proficient," said Bodin, a 24-year IBM veteran who started as a staff programmer. "At IBM, it's not exactly the BYOD metaphor. Rather, we are taking steps to fortify the infrastructure and device management -- all the way to agents on the phone itself -- to guarantee that the phone has not been hacked or jail-broken, and that the phone, with integrity, can attach to our network." IBM didn't disclose the cost of the mobile infrastructure upgrades.

The BYOD trend is widely recognized by analysts, who have noticed that even if a company requires its employees to use a specific smartphone for work tasks, some workers will circumvent the requirement and bring in a second phone of their choosing to do some of their work. According to a recent Forrester Research survey, more people are bringing their own devices to work and more companies are supporting the devices that workers decide to use.

In addition to adopting an open mobile platform approach, IBM plans to allow its employees to choose from hundreds of smartphone and tablet apps available on public application storefronts. They can also get software from IBM's WhirlWind app storefront, which launched in late 2010, Bodin said. In all, IBM users have downloaded about 35,000 apps from WhirlWind.

WhirlWind contains about 400 third-party apps approved for IBM use, as well as 100 apps built internally for IBM employees, Bodin explained. One app provides a catalog of all the software IBM makes, while another helps IBM sales personnel find experts in the far-flung global IBM workforce to help answer customers' questions. An app called Blue Pages, IBM's internal Facebook-style social network, gives users one-click email access to any other IBM employee.

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