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Sunday, 09 June 2013 22:00

Bring Your Own Device: Mobile communication accelerates innovation, exposes risks

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Say goodbye to the cell phone allowance.

That’s because within three years, technology analysts at Gartner Group estimate that half of employers will require employees to bring their own devices to work. And rather than the company buying the devices or paying the employee a direct subsidy for personal communications devices used on the job, Gartner says the typical company will pay $300 a year per employee for mobile device management, support and security by 2016.

Tectonic changes are radically altering the way businesses generate, receive and use data, said Bill Menezes, principal research analyst for Gartner Group based in Denver. The biggest driver for many of these changes is mobile communications, according to Gartner’s annual survey of chief information officers, a report that takes the pulse of executives who buy business communications systems.

“Mobility has been one of the top three areas of focus for CIOs for the past few years,” Menezes said. “Mobility includes cell phones, smartphones, laptops with Wi-Fi, plus everything in the machine-to-machine communications area.”

[LIST: West Michigan Telephone/Internet Service Providers]

Mobility is also key for the telecom industry locally. More than two-thirds of the new installations these days by Grand Rapids-based First Telecommunications Corp. have elements of mobility, virtual applications, and Internet connections, instead of the twisted pair of copper telephone lines tied to clunky handsets that were the norm when the company started business in 1981.

First Telecommunications has nearly 4,000 active customers, making it one of the larger telecom providers in West Michigan.

“Now we’re integrating mobile devices with Windows mobile, Apple iOS and Android,” said Kevin McGrath, vice president of sales and marketing at First Telecommunications. “It’s a blended approach to all of them. That’s today’s business phone network.”

Indeed, telecommunications experts contend 2013 continues a growing trend that has seen smartphones and tablet computers deliver voice, data and video — as well as software applications — from remote servers in the cloud.

“Customers are asking us: ‘How do we extend the reach of our communications platform outside this bricks-and-mortar building?’” McGrath said. “How can we deliver medical transcriptions remotely? How can we perform disaster recovery?”

Increasingly many of these business services are delivered over Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) Trunking, where voice travels on a privately managed network, not the Internet, and is delivered from the cloud, thus bypassing traditional phone networks.

“More business phone lines are IP (Internet Protocol), and more are SIP-based,” said Gartner Group’s Menezes. “Gartner guesses that 14 percent of all business trunk lines are SIP-based today and will grow to 50 percent in just two years.”

Personal devices becoming commonplace

Gartner research also shows that as younger people enter the workforce, they want to plug their mobile devices into the business network. But recent CIO surveys show these young digerati are not alone in their desire to “bring your own device” (BYOD).

Senior executives also are driving this change.

“It’s gone up the food chain,” Menezes said. “As the new devices become available, whether they are tablets or iPads, when the higher-level executives at the company get their hands on them, the ease of use makes them want to inject these devices into the whole IT structure to do mobile work.”

What employers are discovering with BYOD policies is that these sophisticated devices prompt employees to find better ways to improve productivity, Menezes said. It’s that classic thinking out of the box.

Dell Inc., the $60 billion computer maker, has already jumped on the BYOD bandwagon, said Adriana Karaboutis, the company’s vice president and CIO, during an interview at the Michigan Technology Leaders conference last month in Plymouth, Mich.

“At Dell, we have 13,000 employees using BYOD and the number continues to grow,” said Karaboutis, who previously served in the IT departments at both Ford Motor Company and General Motors. “As part of this program, we are currently supporting Android, Windows and iOS devices, with a heavy focus on ensuring the integrity of corporate data on the personal device, while giving employees more choice in how they can be most productive. By keeping the corporate data containerized, we can better manage how it is utilized on the device.”

This communications revolution also has forced Dell, which began life as a desktop computer assembler decades ago in founder Michael Dell’s college dorm at the University of Texas, to expand its portfolio of hardware products to embrace mobility software.

“As a solutions provider, Dell is seeing an increasing interest from businesses in moving toward BYOD and the cloud, and we recently announced a number of software products designed to help customers enable a comprehensive BYOD strategy,” Karaboutis said.

Mitigate risks

Before businesses run headlong into mobility, Menezes warns the BYOD phenomenon is fraught with cyber security risks. He said Gartner always recommends that businesses implement explicit policies to govern BYOD use. A first step is to encrypt data. But even encryption does not block malware.

Malicious applications increasingly are finding their way onto mobile devices, he said. Malware can make a mobile device a conduit for hackers to gain access to a company’s assets stored on its server. Even if the malware doesn’t breach the corporate firewall, it could download corporate information stored on the mobile device, Menezes said.

What businesses need to do is create a policy for BYOD in which the employee acknowledges that the company may have the right to wipe content from a compromised device — or one that is lost or stolen, said Mark Winther, a telecommunications analyst for market researcher International Data Corp.

“A lot of these connection issues are still very early and companies remain cautious about connecting devices remotely,” Winther said. “If you’re a medical device manufacturer, the hospital may not want you to connect these machines and leave its network open to attack.”

One way to solve this problem is to use a separate network to connect wireless devices. For instance, storage devices could include wireless sensors that are managed by the storage manufacturer and not the business client, he said.
This leads to another telecommunications trend: the rise of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. Everything from mobile-connected tablets to sensors that track shipments, or any other corporate assets, is part of this M2M explosion.

Accelerated innovation

Two years ago, Gartner statistics showed there were less than 25 million M2M cell phone connections in the United States. By the end of 2016, Gartner predicts there will be a fourfold increase to nearly 100 million M2M connections.

“That leads us to another emerging area: the use of the vast amounts of data collected to improve business process,” Winther said. “Big data is creating new and better ways to market products and to analyze customers’ preferences.”

This, in turn, has created an information feedback loop that forces businesses to innovate faster and smarter or risk getting eaten by companies that do.

“By smarter, I mean intelligent policy-based approaches,” Winther said. “You’ve got users out there on all kinds of different devices — smartphones, dumb phones, tablet, 3G, 4G. You need an intelligent policy to understand who the user is, what device they are using, and how they are accessing the network. Then you need to deliver the appropriate content for what they are secured to access. Is the access for content, business customer records, video training, or just Internet access?”

He said businesses also need to develop an intelligent policy mechanism that identifies the environment and serves up a package appropriate to that user, application and device. This policy could be modeled after what wireless communications companies have done for years. When wireless traffic peaks, carriers must decide whether to block new calls or slow existing data delivery. Businesses could extend that policy into application tolerances to provide different priorities to apps for business or personal use, Winther said.

“The idea is no company can figure out or understand the use cases going forward,” he said. “As good as they are, as smart as they are, there is no way to figure it out without partners in a business ecosystem.”

Winther pointed to Seattle-based software giant Microsoft, the inventor of Windows. Its first and best customer for Windows is Microsoft itself. Microsoft builds many applications that run on Windows, but its partners — other software developers — build upon the Windows ecosystem. This means Microsoft has created a programmable business environment that allows anyone to enhance Windows and increase the size of the business pie. Every time a new Windows-based application is sold, more Windows is consumed.

Facebook uses the same business model, Winther said. Farmville, an app created by Zynga, rides on top of Facebook. Facebook’s application programming interface (API) allows third parties like Zynga to build new applications that expand Facebook’s customer base.

Now even automakers like General Motors are creating open API strategies with the connected car, he said. Today’s vehicles are filled with electronics and computers. So GM and other automakers have decided to open application development to third parties that come up with systems the car companies probably would not come up with on their own. Winther said any business can benefit from this mobility model.

Network improvements ahead

The mobility explosion has forced traditional cell phone providers like Verizon Wireless to enhance their networks, said Michelle Gilbert, spokesperson for Verizon Wireless in Michigan.

“There are lots of innovative companies with tremendous ideas about BYOD,” Gilbert said. “We just provide them with the network to deliver those ideas.”

To help entrepreneurs develop even more business ideas to run on Verizon’s network, the company announced in April that it will award $10 million in prizes in what’s called the Verizon Powerful Answers contest. Verizon Wireless wants to spark innovative thinking and problem solving to expand the use of its network, she said.

“It could be a small Michigan business with a great idea (about) how it gets on our network,” Gilbert said. “It may be a big company that we partner with on a national level.”

Some of these new services could be smart accessories, she said.

“We’re finding accessories coming out that enable you to get more value out of your smartphone and tablet,” Gilbert said. “Take health and fitness: There are fitness accessories that track your calorie burn. They track your sleep. They then upload this information to wireless devices, which then upload to your personal account to consolidate this data in one place. It’s another form of Big Data.”

And that’s only the beginning. Verizon Wireless is moving rapidly to implement its ultra-high speed 4G LTE wireless broadband network. 4G LTE will usher in what some have called the next communications revolution: smoother streaming live video that does not need to be buffered. Gilbert said Verizon Wireless customers could leave town and literally keep an eye on their homes through their smartphones or tablets while they were away. Live video will also exponentially expand Verizon Wireless customers’ data usage, according to the company.

It’s not just wireless companies that are offering smart accessories and creating new products and services to support the mobility explosion. Belkin, a long-time computer accessories maker, offers a switch that plugs into a wall socket in your home so you can control your appliances from your smartphone. Instead of setting up a programmable timer in a home that turns on the lights at the same time every night, smartphone users can flip the lights on and off whenever they want to make would-be burglars think someone is at home. Smart accessories are also sold by Radio Shack, Best Buy and a host of other retailers. The end game for wireless network providers like Verizon is another huge spike in traffic.

“4G LTE will change the landscape for consumers and businesses,” Gilbert said. “If a business is not invested in 4G LTE technology, it will not survive.”

Mike Brennan is senior technology writer for MiBiz. His day job is Editor & Publisher of MITechNews.com.

Read 5655 times Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2013 12:13

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