Wireless Devices Are Good For Business, But Create Security Challenges

A roundtable of CIOs at the Mobile Business Expo in Chicago shared the benefits of BlackBerry and Treo devices for workers, yet data security, cost, and policy development are obstacles.
Wireless technology and mobile devices can add value to the business and make workers on-the-go more productive, say executives who participated in a CIO roundtable yesterday at the Mobile Business Expo in Chicago. But deploying mobile devices also creates challenges.

Vendors of wireless products may not consider construction companies, although they have very mobile workforces, said James McGibney, operations manager at Rudolph and Sletten, a construction company that has rolled out Treo and BlackBerry devices to its workers.

The workers use Research In Motion's mobile E-mail service with the BlackBerrys and Good Technology's mobile E-mail with Treo devices, so they can stay on top of any alerts or changes during the construction process. Rudolph and Sletten's IT staff also wrote an in-house security application to make sure data traveling wirelessly is protected. "We didn't want to rely on a vendor to come up with security for us, so we relied on our in-house talent," said McGibney.

Rudolph and Sletten also is in the process of deploying an application that lets construction workers change and approve orders on site. However, there are quirks that the company has yet to work out with the new application. "It's labor intensive on the network and is not easy to use on a small screen," said McGibney.

The healthcare industry's use of wireless devices, on the other hand, is well established. Now the introduction of mainstream mobile devices is helping the industry move away from proprietary wireless technology. The Northeast Medical Center Hospital, for example, has rolled out PatientKeeper software on Treo 650 devices, which doctors use to track patients and get lab results. Doctors get alerted about patients' conditions in real-time and can schedule emergency procedures instantly, because the devices also function as cell phones. "Physicians don't want to type or deal with desktops, so mobile devices like Treos are perfect for them," said the hospital's VP and CIO Carla Maslakowski.

Others feel that deploying mobile devices is a gradual process that requires getting control over policies and procedures first.

Sysco Corp. is a $30 billion food-service distributor with a huge staff of marketing people who regularly travel to customer sites. Once on site, they use their laptops to take orders, which typically have to be delivered to the customer the next morning. About 7,500 of their laptops are equipped with wireless cards from Verizon and Sprint Nextel, which connect the marketing people to Sysco's E-commerce site, said Larry Hardin, head of communications at Sysco.

Sysco, however, wanted to give marketing people a more portable "anywhere order-entry capability" that would allow them to enter orders throughout the day and that would be just as reliable as a laptop. As a result, the company deployed 500 BlackBerry devices, but believes they're still too expensive, said Hardin. Additionally, "putting together policy and procedures to add security for a device like this is becoming a real challenge," Hardin said.

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