IBM: The internal app store
IBM has long tradition of promoting mobility among its workforce, but even a multinational powerhouse like Big Blue still grapples with the issues surrounding mobile devices.
“When someone asks for a device, it’s never a straight yes or no answer,” says Steven Godbee, IBM’s CIO for Australia and New Zealand.
“If we just said a blanket ‘no’, our people wouldn’t accept that. We treat it by allowing devices under certain conditions.”
Godbee, a 25-year veteran of IBM, says all devices are reviewed from a security perspective before getting the green light.
“A device must meet specific security requirements, including firewall, antivirus, passwords and other criteria, before our security team will endorse it,” he says.
Smartphones and tablets that have passed muster are allowed to connect to e-mail using IBM’s own Lotus Traveller, a version of Lotus Notes made especially for mobile platforms. Other applications, like CRM and instant messaging, are more restricted, but Godbee says it depends on the needs of each user, much along the lines of the managed diversity idea advanced by Gartner’s Rowsell-Jones.
A device must meet specific security requirements ... before our security team will endorse it
“It’s all about enabling better productivity and better responsiveness to customers,” Godbee says. In particular, he cites how solutions have been tailored to meet the needs of IBM’s workers in Western Australia, who do a lot of work with mining and petroleum companies, often in rugged and remote locales.
“Some of the places they go are literally in the middle of nowhere, so the ability to receive information and get approvals online using a smartphone is a tremendous benefit to them,” he says.
IBM also has another, very large ace up its sleeve when it comes to managing mobility. Rather than expend huge effort constantly resolving mobile security issues, IBM simply created a mobile application store specifically for its own workforce.
In-depth: How to create a successful mobile project.
Called WhirlWind, the store manages and distributes smartphone applications for IBM’s 400,000-plus employees in 170 countries, and it does so in a way that guarantees the quality and safety of the apps used. The service also creates a framework for managing roles and responsibilities to ensure critical data remains in the right hands.
WhirlWind is available through IBM’s intranet. Once employees log in, they can access the store directly from their mobile devices, where they can search, browse and download a large selection of mobile apps, as well as upload their own personally developed apps.
Godbee describes WhirlWind as “a crowd-sourced, community-vetted repository that provides mobile application distribution for secure smartphones”. Initially it was focused on Blackberrys, but it’s also being piloted for other devices, he says, adding, “I use it myself”.
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In addition to Godbee, WhirlWind has proven to be a success with the rest of IBM’s workforce too. More than 31,000 IBM employees have used the service, contributing more than 500 apps and mobile websites to WhirlWind since its launch in late 2010.
It features core business applications, such as CRM, as well as tools like the Blue Pages (IBM’s corporate directory), instant messaging and common apps for routine tasks like booking travel.
WhirlWind was piloted in Australia, largely among employees servicing IBM’s aforementioned remote mining customers in Western Australia. Godbee also cites IBM’s 2011 Global CIO Study, wherein 84 per cent of Australian CIOs were pursuing mobility solutions — 10 per cent higher than the global average.
“What is great about WhirlWind is that it demonstrates how Australia remains at the forefront of mobile technology use,” Godbee says.
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