SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When Ralph Loura took over as CIO of Clorox a year ago, the company was standardized on clunky Windows 2000 desktop computers and Blackberry mobile phones.
"Employee satisfaction with the IT team was not great," he said during a keynote speech yesterday at the SNW conference here.
"If you believe demographic studies, the workforce in their 20s and 30s isn't going to accept black corporate PCs with black corporate mobile phones and not be allowed to run Facebook or Angry Bird apps," he said.
Loura was among many CIOs and IT managers at SNW who said they're facing the same issue -- employees want to use mobile technology at work, leaving IT with the job of ensuring that the devices and the data on them remain secure.
For Loura, that meant revamping the company's IT infrastructure while leveraging public and private clouds whenever possible.
The effort to enable a more mobile workforce becomes more a challenge at a company -- like Clorox -- whose 8,300 person workforce is split evenly between "information" workers and plant workers.
Loura so far has replaced 6,000 desktop and tower computers with lightweight HP laptops, and got rid of company-issued Blackberries while letting workers choose between an iPhone or Android or Window Phone 7-powered smartphone. The company has issued 2,000 smartphones, 92% of which are iPhones. About 6% of the smartphones chosen were Android-based while 2% were Windows Phone 7 devices.
"We live in public cloud for mail and messaging. I don't have to worry about security because I don't sync data to the iPhones. It remains in the cloud," he said.
"My job is about how to be the chief risk officer, yet provide choice and flexibility. It's about putting apps and logistics in the cloud and pushing the user interface to the edge," Loura continued.
Loura said a select group of employees is piloting a small number of iPads. While he's yet to find anyone who has said "take my laptop and replace with iPad," Loura does believe the tablet can eventually run business applications from the cloud.
"What I want [to do is] figure out how to take that business intelligence app or workflow app and figure out way to have it be accessed in an intuitive way from the iPad," he said.
Loura is not alone working to allow a self-reliant workforce to pick and choose the tools with which they want to work. As he sees it, his job is get his IT shop out of the way, without putting the company's data at risk.
Richard Rothschild, senior director IT and facilities at DVR-maker TiVo, also gives free rein to employees when it comes to mobile devices.
"I get a big benefit when I can use my mobile phone to see e-mail and be able to respond more quickly. I can approve things going into production faster instead of me having to find a computer and log in," he said. "The problem is protecting our intellectual property."
Rothschild said his company only allows workers to use phones that IT can control and wipe of data if they're lost or an employee leaves the company.
"We have a very large amount of data that's very sensitive to our customers," said David Davies, CIO at Flight Options, a private jet transportation company.
Even so, Davies said his company issued Blackberries to all of its employees in 2001 and 2002. The result was immediate, the company saved $8,000 in the first month in long distance phone bills.
Prior to using smartphones, Flight Options pilots and crew had to file details about how much aircraft maintenance, fuel consumption, miles flown per day, and any schedule deviations due to late passengers via fax to dispatchers. With the mobile phones, that information is sent cheaply and instantly.
Along with the mobile phones, Davies deployed a mobile device manager server to track the applications used on mobile devices, to inventory phones and wipe their data if they're lost.
Davies is currently rolling out iPads to his employees. The hope is that pilots and crewmembers will figure out ways to use them for myriad applications, such as downloading weather charts and passenger information.
"We'll have 20 iPads out there in the next six months and I need a way to manage them," he said.
Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.