iPads run amok: Does your company need a tablet policy?

With tablet mania in full swing, should IT take charge, back off or strike a middle course in trying to control everyone's new favorite gadget?

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"What the iPhone started to show us -- and the iPad is absolutely making clear -- is that these devices are coming in whether you like it or not," says Leslie Fiering, research vice president at Gartner. "That means that IT has its work cut out for them."

Specifically, industry experts and seasoned tech execs advise IT to do the following:

  • Craft or amend usage policies to enforce security best practices for tablets, including use of multilevel passwords and device certificates, and the ability to remotely wipe the device if it is lost or stolen.
  • Establish tiered access to network resources to secure critical data and applications.
  • Re-architect application delivery mechanisms.
  • Determine what levels of support IT will provide, depending on whether units are owned by the employee or the company.

If that list seems a bit daunting, read on to learn how enterprise IT managers have had success in trying to wrap their arms around the tablet.

Mobile device management to the rescue

In the early days, enterprise-level security for the iPhone was nonexistent, but that's not the case anymore. Apple's iOS 4.x for both the iPhone and iPad supports an array of fairly robust security features, including encryption, centralized management and remote data wipe.

Dozens of enterprise mobile device management (MDM) tools extend those capabilities to other smart mobile devices beyond the iPhone, enabling IT to do everything from remote configuration and policy setting to creating "enterprise sandboxes" -- secure virtual areas where personal data can be kept separate from corporate data using tools like passwords and encryption -- and performing remote wipes if a device is lost or stolen.

IT shops that already have such systems in place for smartphones are well positioned to address security and management concerns from day one of a tablet deployment.

Tellabs is leveraging many such capabilities to manage a growing fleet of a couple hundred company-owned iPads. The firm delivers broadband access and network management services to telecommunications providers.

Tellabs' supply chain professionals, sales reps and other employees are using iPads to access email and calendars, as well as enterprise applications that allow them to approve customer shipments and provide better service.

In order to access those resources, however, users have to enter credentials that authenticate what applications and information can be accessed by specific users.

In addition to these safeguards, Tellabs also employs an "always connected" model, where applications work only when the device is connected to the mobile Internet.

"Data doesn't reside on the mobile device for offline access," explains Jean Holley, Tellabs' CIO. "This model prevents loss of corporate data and intellectual property. As the mobile Internet gets smarter and the coverage area continues to grow, we believe there will be minimal need for offline capability in the future."

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