Barclays recently announced that it has made a bulk order of 8,500 iPads for staff in order to improve customer service and boost sales. The devices are being given to front-office employees in its 1,600 branches — an average of five per branch — in one of the largest uses so far of Apple's tablets in an enterprise. Sovereign Bank and others are following suit.
Is the reign of Bring Your Own Device — in which employees bring in their favorite mobile computing device, be it iPhone, iPad or Android, and ask IT to load it up with their work apps and files — already on the wane?
"BYOD for us for some time has not so much meant literally you take whatever you have lying around in your house and your IT department will make it work," says Aaron Freimark, CTO at Tekserve, a consumer electronics and IT consulting business based in New York. "I don't think it's ever really meant that. It's more a sexy way of describing consumerization. Specifically, it's about control of the device you have in front of you. Who has the admin password? How much control does the IT department cede to the user?"
Many banks and other large businesses Tekserve works with are buying iPads for their employees and setting up the devices with recommended apps and personalization, so that the user's email account, VPN access and such are already on the device the first time she uses it.
Some companies assign each user an app store login and let them install their own apps. "That has the employee feeling ownership of the device, feeling responsible for it, taking more care what they do with it, and not leaving it around," Freimark says. This has a beneficial effect on security and productivity, he says.
One customer, Sovereign Bank, has given the iPad 2 to 140 employees in a pilot. "That's a case where the customer wanted a locked down experience, there wasn't a lot of user participation and control," he says. "Certainly in a highly regulated industry, that's an important consideration." This was of the most secure implementations that Tekserve has ever done, he notes. "You can't even plug it into your computer at home," Freimark says. "It's locked down, prevented from syncing anywhere else, prevented from selling apps and what's on there is what's on there."
A lot of companies don't know this is even possible with iPads, Freimark points out. "They think the user is king and anything the user wants to do they can do," he says. But Apple offers a supervision mode that lets companies enforce controls such as preventing access to the iBooks store. "In Apple's mind, either the employee owns the device or the company owns the device, and whoever has ownership has control," Freimark says. "If the employee owns the device, Apple thinks no one should be telling that person what they can or cannot do. They don't permit these restrictions on the unsupervised device. But in a supervised, controlled scenario, you do have these other aspects of control."
Another corporate customer, CableVision, is deploying 3,000 iPads to field service technicians. When they get the iPad from Tekserve, it has their email, corporate desktop and 30 apps on it. "It turns these service technicians into salespeople," Freimark says. "You're in the person's house, there's no better time to say let me give you phone service as well."
How are companies making decisions about whether to buy devices for employees and which ones? "Security is a big factor," Freimark says. "One of the biggest risks of tablets in the world of app stores is Trojan horses. You're pretty sure you're only installing software that somebody has looked at, but how closely have they looked at it? Apple's walled garden is pretty attractive. Android does a more shallow inspection of the software, for better and for worse."
Another issue that comes up with portable devices is software fragmentation. "It's fine on day one; everyone will have the same version," Freimark says. "But some will upgrade and some will not upgrade. Some older devices can't be upgraded." Apple does a better job than most at consistent device upgrades, he says.
Airport food and beverage operator OTG has placed iPads at benches at some Delta terminals, including New York's LaGuardia and JFK airports. On a given day, 100 people might use one of these iPads, which raises the issue of how do you keep it from breaking, walking away and secure, with each user's personal data and Facebook password protected. "There's a whole wealth of experience that needs to go into that," Freimark says. "A lot of people underestimate how durable the iPad is when it's being passed around by a lot of people. They're concerned about security and breakage. There are good solutions for both of those things."