IBM CIO Embraces BYOD Movement

The company supports the personal devices of 80,000 employees today, and aims to expand coverage to all 440,000 workers.

IBM CIO Jeanette Horan oversees a range of big IT projects, but one of the most pressing initiatives is the ongoing rollout of a BYOD, or bring-your-own-device, program.

The company's long-term goal is to provide the technology and support necessary to enable all 440,000 of its worldwide employees to use personal devices to do their jobs, Horan said in an interview at IBM's offices in Cambridge, Mass.

The IBM workforce has long been "hugely mobile," with employees working from client sites, home offices or other locations outside corporate buildings, she said. The mobile workforce had historically used company-owned Research In Motion BlackBerry devices managed under a long-running corporate mobile phone program.

Over the past year or so, though, Apple iPhones and other mobile devices began cropping up, and IBM decided to quickly get in front of the issue, Horan said.

"If we didn't support them," she explains, "we figured [the workers] would figure out how to support [the devices] themselves." And that would be a no-no, because it could potentially put a wealth of sensitive corporate data at risk.

The BYOD program "really is about supporting employees in the way they want to work," Horan said. "They will find the most appropriate tool to get their job done. I want to make sure I can enable them to do that, but in a way that safeguards the integrity of our business."

To that end, IBM has issued a series of "secure computing guidelines" to raise awareness of online security and help employees understand the sensitive nature of corporate data, Horan said.

About 120,000 employees are using mobile devices to access IBM's network, and 80,000 of those people own the devices they use and pay the monthly service fees, according to an IBM spokesman. The remaining 40,000 use smartphones issued by IBM, he said.

Dion Hinchcliffe, executive vice president of strategy at Dachis Group, a consulting firm, said the prominence and scale of IBM's ongoing deployment, especially its approaches to management and policy, are worth paying attention to as the the BYOD trend gathers steam and spreads to other major corporations.

The IBM BYOD program uses internal technology such as Lotus Traveler, which provides Lotus email and calendar functionality, and the Tivoli Endpoint Manager, which lets IT wipe devices when they are lost or stolen, or when an employee leaves the company.

IBM is also evaluating virtual private network technologies, which could provide greater security and support for more mobile applications.

To use their own devices, IBM employees must agree to adhere to Horan's policies, including the edict that personal devices must be wiped when employees leave the company.

Not all the mobile strategy challenges are technical, Horan said. For instance, the company's presence in 170 countries significantly complicates things. "Sadly, we have to have a contract in every country, pretty much," she noted.

That said, a broader move to mobile phones could lead to cost savings. "How do I make the mobile phone the only phone for the [employee] and then get rid of my office phones?" Horan said.

However, she added, such a full-blown global push toward mobile-only phone service for all employees depends on whether there's adequate cellular service in all locations.

Kanaracus is a reporter for the IDG News Service.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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