Consumer devices still cause IT chaos -- five years after first iPhone

IT execs offer advice on tough task of embracing consumer devices, and how they can be used to innovate

PHOENIX -- The consumerization of IT trend is causing chaos and confusion in IT operations grappling with the demand that they support the latest iPad, iPhone or Android device.

That's the opinion of many CIO's and IT managers attending Computerworld's Premier 100 conference here this week.

Two years after the unveiling of the iPad and about five years after the first iPhone, several IT managers said they are taking steps to allow workers to use Apple iOS- and Android-based devices at work.

Despite such steps, the pressure to support such devices continues to leave IT managers feeling threatened and off-balance, several said in interviews.

"After all this time, I'm still in crisis mode with Bring Your Own Device," said Alex Yohn, assistant director of the office of technology at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va.

Yohn and about 30 IT managers in one session overwhelmingly agreed that adapting their organizations to support consumer mobile devices has been a complex and painful process, easily as complicated as adapting to laptops in their early days.

Most in the session rated the level of pain of preparing to support mobile devices at an eight on a scale of one to 10.

Yohn was one of the few who spoke publicly about his operation's efforts, and seems to have come up some of the best approaches.

West Virginia University was forced to adapt, partly because students began arriving with iOS, Android and other Linux-based devices and demanded that they be able to access university networks and applications, he said.

The university has adapted by, among other things, putting many university apps on the Web, Yohn said. University developers used HTLM 5 and other tools to ensure apps supported a variety of mobile devices running different operating systems, he added.

Other IT managers at the Premier 100 conference said dissatisfaction with Research in Motion's BlackBerry devices they relied on for years has the potential to cause a crisis in an organization.

The latest four-day RIM outage in October put several IT managers on a mission to find alternatives, including allowing workers to use their personal devices for job tasks, they said.

An IT manager at a company with 70,000 employees, which he asked not be identified, said mostly iOS-based devices have spread to nearly 10% of the workforce over past three years. His IT group has in turn tried to optimize company applications for iOS.

Focusing on adapting apps to work with iOS has caused some users of Android machines to complain when things don't work. But the IT manager said, "We tell them if it doesn't work, it's your own fault."

Good Technology, which provides software it says can help organizations secure consumer mobile devices, offered a variety of ways to help organizations to adapt to the consumerization trend.

"BYOD is happening, so get over it. Embrace it," said good CTO Nicko van Someren.

Van Someren presented examples of customers who have saved money by allowing workers to bring their own devices to work, in some cases even replacing thousands of company-owned BlackBerry devices.

He said the company's Good for Enterprise tool set was deployed at the U.S. Department of Energy to provide consistent security across a variety of mobile platforms.

At Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, van Someren said Good provided what it calls "secure container" software to separate personal data such as photographs and songs on a smartphone or tablet from corporate data.

Highmark and DOE officials weren't available to verify van Someren's claims.

Various IT managers attending the conference said the consumerization of IT trend poses much larger policy and adaptation problems than merely finding security software.

Tom Soderstrom, CTO at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, spent nearly an hour describing how the organization uses consumer technologies internally to excite workers and the public. The IT shop needs to be an innovator, not just the security enforcer, he said.

For instance, Soderstrom showed how videoconferencing can be conducted from tablets connected wirelessly to robots equipped with cameras that run on wheels or as part of mini-helicopters. In either case, the robots could be used to quickly assess a data center or an entire plant after an earthquake or other disaster.

Yohn of West Virginia University said there can be greater productivity from touch interfaces, and has worked to help the university to adapt via a process that isn't always fun.

"If the consumerization trend ever stabilizes, it's years off," Yohn remarked. "It's growing and growing. Whether I participate or not, I can't stop it."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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