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David Ewalt
David Ewalt

Keep Far-Flung Employees Close

General Motors uses iPass to provide mobile workers around the globe with a variety of options for linking to its network

Getting remote users connected in a reliable and secure fashion to a network is a challenge for any enterprise. But when you're managing a global company with tens of thousands of mobile workers, it becomes a critical problem.

General Motors Corp. in May began deploying a system from virtual network provider iPass Inc., providing mobile workers with the ability to connect securely via a variety of network protocols. The software eventually will be given to as many as 20,000 remote workers, says Tony Scott, chief technology officer at GM.

General Motors will roll out iPass to as many as 20,000 workers, Scott says.
Users of the iPass system run an application on their notebook or handheld computer and log on through a geography-centric interface, indicating their current location in the world. Users are then presented with a list of available connectivity options, including dial-up modem, ISDN, 802.11 wireless, and wired broadband. The iPass system also includes security policies that allow managers to make sure users have appropriate firewall or security software running before they connect.

The iPass system puts much of the access and feature control in the hands of the IT department, says IDC analyst Keith Waryas. One key feature, he says, is the ability to set access limitations, allowing only high-level executives to log on via expensive broadband and wireless connections, and limiting lower-level employees to cheaper dial-up.

But while deploying a remote-access system solved some technical problems for GM, it may have raised some new business issues. Under GM's old system, remote-access fees were paid for out of the company's travel budget. But when the IT department implemented the iPass system, says Scott, "the question became, should IT have to pay for it?" Today, the costs are being paid out of both the IT budget and the travel-and-expenses budget.

The iPass system isn't the only way GM is keeping mobile workers connected, Scott says. GM has also started a large rollout of BlackBerry E-mail devices, and the company also uses Nextel push-to-talk cellular service extensively.

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