Thousands of Bell Canada field technicians this fall will begin doing their jobs of installing and testing telecom and media services connections with help from custom-designed smartphone apps rather than via their laptops. It's all part of what Bell Canada is calling its "One Device" mobile initiative, in essence, a mobility makeover.
"As a company, we decided to replace the laptops," says Gabriel Di Lullo, associate director of information technology at Bell Technical Solutions, the Bell Canada subsidiary where about 5,000 technicians go out to customers to install a variety of Internet, phone and cable services. The era where laptops have been lugged around to do this is over, Di Lullo says, adding, "Next year, there will be no laptops."
Instead, technicians will carry Samsung Galaxy Note smartphones whose screens have a tablet feel to them -- a "phablet," as some like to call them. The transition to these Android-based smartphones on a large scale for the workforce also means Bell Canada is making decisions about mobility management and security.
Preparations to migrate to the Android-based Samsung Galaxy Note are moving right along at Bell Technical Solutions, with the toughest challenge at the moment being the creation of the software driver that Samsung is helping work on that would be used to test Internet connection speed. Di Lullo says his Bell Canada subsidiary is building a couple of dozen apps for the Samsung smartphone, mostly through in-house software development. The smartphone apps are for functions such as workforce management scheduling, forecasting and service testing. Bell Canada's field-service technicians should be set to go with their Samsung smartphones in the November timeframe, says Di Lullo, adding, "We're also putting a program in place to repair these phones."
There were a number of reasons that Bell Canada decided to shift to this phablet, such as the more lightweight convenience in comparison with laptops and a separate phone. Cost was also a factor, with Bell Canada's IT and business managers deciding laptops with Windows licenses were going to be more expensive than the selected smartphone with the Android operating system.
But Di Lullo points out there are also challenges in using the Samsung Note smartphone, a product which can feel more consumer-oriented than enterprise-focused. One example of this, he says, is that Samsung pushes out operating system updates over the air, which can sometimes lead to glitches. The way to control these version releases is by using mobile-device management software, he notes.
Bell Technical Solutions has had a positive experience with Sophos mobile management software for use internally and may deploy the Sophos MDM for the Samsung smartphones for its field technicians. But final decisions are still pending as the Canadian telecom giant nails down its broader "One Device mobility plan internally. Smartphones and tablets are becoming so important for corporate use that there is now a group of information architects at Bell Canada with expertise specifically for this, Di Lullo says.
Di Lullo, who notes the Sophos MDM also includes anti-malware functionality, says MDM is needed for management and security, such as the ability to wipe a phone remotely. It also will help with monitoring each field technician's smartphone data-plan usage, a cost paid for by the Bell Canada subsidiary. The expectation now is that field technicians can make personal use of the smartphones they're issued, as long as they don't exceed the data-plan limits each month. Another idea that may be implemented is Web filtering to restrict access to the kind of web sites typically regarded as off limits in a business setting.
Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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