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Un-tethering Mobile

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It seems there’s barely a person around that doesn’t have a smartphone tucked in a pocket or purse. As retailers make a greater shift to the mobile universe, some are finding that allowing staff to use their own personal devices has multiple benefits.

Often known as a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) program, employees like it because it gives them flexibility. Some companies may enjoy it because they no longer have to foot the bill for phone purchases; that lets them shift to monthly payments and avoid long-term contracts. Most importantly, it can improve communications throughout all levels of the organization.

There can be risks: Corporate IT departments often express concern about the safety of data being transmitted over the network. Another big question is how to draw the line between business and personal use. Since employees are using their own devices for business, the company may not have the right to mandate what can be done on personal time with the device.

Fortunately, there are companies that can lay the groundwork for a BYOD program. BoxTone is a global enterprise mobility management (EMM) software and services provider that offers a platform of plug-and-play software modules to ensure that smartphones maintain optimal service levels at the lowest cost and risk.

BoxTone CMO and chief product officer Brian Reed says one of the biggest hurdles organizations face is that the tools and traditional infrastructure they have in place are not designed for mobile. Their challenges are not just in functionality, but in data security. BoxTone steps in to connect the organization’s infrastructure to the mobile world.

“It enables IT to configure those devices, connect them to the enterprise and lay down security capabilities so they can make sure the data is safe and protected,” Reed says.

Benefits for employer and employee
When BlackBerry smartphones first came on the market, high-end interior design company Holly Hunt issued a number of corporate-owned devices to employees to promote productivity. As smartphones went mainstream and more devices came on the market, employee preferences grew more diverse. Some wanted iPhones, others wanted Android devices and it wasn’t long before employees started requesting the ability to use their own devices to connect to the corporate network.

Neil Goodrich, Holly Hunt’s director of business analytics and technology, says people also began to grow tired of carrying multiple devices. “It just got silly watching people walk around with a Batman-type utility belt with a BlackBerry on one side and an iPhone on the other,” he says.

The challenge was to find a way to allow employees to use their own phones while protecting corporate assets and data. Because Holly Hunt would not own the phones, there was a fine line between what could be considered work and personal usage. Holly Hunt needed a platform that would go beyond mobile device management and support the full mobile device lifecycle while maintaining and securing mobile apps.

Holly Hunt went to all employees who had been given BlackBerry smartphones in the past, offering them the opportunity to trade in their phones and take part in the BYOD program. Out of approximately 75 BlackBerry smartphones in the program, 20 were turned in. Employees were then offered a stipend and given access to the Holly Hunt corporate account, which offered heavily discounted plans.
“If you enroll ... we don’t even see or interact with your bill,” Goodrich says. “There are lots of ways we work up these advantages to the employees.”

Because employees were reimbursed for their own phone plans, there was no worry of being stuck with 20 months left on a 36-month contract if an employee decided to leave the company. So far, the BYOD program has resulted in a 5 percent annual reduction in total telecom costs for Holly Hunt.

“It became a much more controllable expense, and the level of employee satisfaction rose,” Goodrich says. “It really cost us nothing to do and it made people feel good that they didn’t have to carry multiple devices around with them.”

Rapid-time functionality
As connectivity increases and the lines between personal time and work grow fainter, Reed says BYOD programs increase connectivity on all levels of the organization. With most “knowledge-oriented” employees, there is a growing need and expectation for around-the-clock communication and interaction.

At the same time, employees are increasingly using smartphones to skirt corporate policies. If they can’t do it on their desktop computer, they’ll simply use their personal smartphone to check sports scores, post status updates to Facebook or order a new book on Amazon.

“People are already blending personal use with business use and this is just a natural extension of that,” Reed says. “You can jump from the corporate e-mail to personal e-mail, and can do it all at once.”

The advantages of mobile can be implemented even faster when using a BYOD program because the retailer can use devices that are already in place. Whether it’s an outside sales associate who pulls up files and presentations on an Android or a shipping clerk who reviews orders on an iPad, mobile is rapidly changing retail behind the scenes. Holly Hunt is slowly aiming to roll out more mobile applications throughout the organization, Goodrich says.

BoxTone’s software uses rapid-time functionality to enable mobile IT operations and support and mobile business management. For retailers, it means one solution to manage all the mobile devices in the hands of their employees. The BoxTone Core platform offers a scalable, secure system management platform with real-time automation technology to monitor, analyze and control all aspects of the mobile environment. For the BYOD program, BoxTone has a self-registration portal where employees with a new device can sign up to gain access to corporate assets.

“BoxTone makes sure those devices are in compliance with our rules,” Goodrich says. “If someone is not in compliance or if there is some sort of threat there is the option to block them.”

Reed says the shift to mobile is best done incrementally, because trying to totally re-engineer a business around mobile can backfire. Not only can it be too capital-intensive, it can call for risky changes in a business model that ultimately may not be as effective as the original. Reed says a BYOD program with corporate e-mail access is a good starting point to improve communications and open up the door for further mobile applications.

Testing mobile programs with the “low-hanging fruit” is also beneficial because many vendors using web-based applications already have mobile-based apps. Such capabilities and functions can be taken to mobile devices quickly and easily, Reed says.

“Then you will get ways to enable your workforce with point-of-use applications, whether they are sales teams having info on a mobile device or truck drivers having a point-of-order manifest,” he says.