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Leeds City Council deploys mobile self-provisioning

Cliff Saran

In a bid to lower the burden on the helpdesk, Leeds City Council has built a portal and online apps market for smartphone users.

The council has implemented mobile device management from MobileIron to allow council staff to use their own Android and Apple smartphones at work.

Over 6,000 council employees are supplied with corporate-owned mobile devices, 800 of which are Windows smartphones. The council needed to switch from an existing Windows Phone strategy to one that could enable staff to bring their own devices to work.

The council had previously standardised on Windows Mobile 6.5, but when Windows Mobile 7.0 was released, it became difficult to find new 6.5 devices, said Marcus Hunter, strategic services manager at Leeds City Council.

“We felt Windows Phone 7 was an immature platform. However  you could not buy a Windows Phone 6.5 device. So we were stuck.” As an alternative, the council began speaking to Samsung about its Galaxy W device, which has a built-in cryptographic software module compliant with the government-approved FIPs specification.

ActiveSync, the Microsoft technology for linking smartphones to Exchange e-mail server, could not adequately meet the needs of the council, according to Hunter.

"With Microsoft at the core of our IT infrastructure we implemented ActiveSync to manage our smartphone estate. We determined that it didn't offer the level of visibility or security that we needed to manage a broad estate of devices and a potentially broad estate of applications going forward. We also wanted to adopt a mature smartphone platform for the corporate environment, and began assessing Android as the operating system of choice. We embarked on a project to refresh our entire enterprise mobility strategy, and a secure mobile device management (MDM) solution needed to be at the heart of this."

He said, “We decided to move corporate phone standard to Android using the Samsung Galaxy W – which comes with a lot security in the phone for device encryption.”.

So the council standardised on the Galaxy W as the corporate device, but it needed to cater for iPhone and Android smartphone users as well. It also wanted to provide self-provisioning of apps through a private marketplace and remote locking to avoid extra cost on the helpdesk.

To meet the security and productivity needs, Leeds City Council assessed and piloted MobileIron MDM software. 

"We needed a platform that could support and secure a truly mixed mobile estate without adding complexity. We concluded that MobileIron was the best all-round solution with the capabilities to do this," Hunter said.

"The central management functions of the [MobileIron] platform mean that operational overheads will reduce.”

To support the bring your own device (BYOD) scheme, Leeds used mobile systems integrator Qolcom to deploy MobileIron and built a portal for users, which could deliver a cost-effective service, Hunter explained:  “So if a user wants their own device, they log a call to IT services.”

Users are asked to agree to the terms of a disclaimer, which states that the council will install device management software on their device, and they will be required to set up a PIN for the phone. They are also told they are not allowed to attempt to jailbreak the device to overcome the security measures.

The user is then migrated to the council's mobile IM group using Active Directory and a text message is sent out to inform the user to access the self-help portal. 

“Users download an application through the portal, which downloads a security certificate. The app provides access to Exchange e-mail, calendar and contacts. Mobile device management software is also installed on the user's smartphone," said Hunter.

The portal supports devices with a minimum specification of Android 2.2 and iOS 5.0 for Apple iPhones and iPads.

With the MobileIron platform now in place, the council is looking to develop its mobile app strategy using the supplier's App Storefront. Although Exchange is the only app currently available for all users, Leeds is testing the productivity benefits of mobile applications, enabling specialist third-party apps to employees in the highways department and housing association teams. 

The construction app for housing on Android, with 10 users, which is being used to organise work when council tenants move out of a building.

For document sharing the council runs Microsoft SharePoint. Hunter said, “We are reviewing how we can provide document sharing securely.” While Exchange access can be locked down, Hunter is concerned about storing confidential documents locally on a device. He said, “The majority of SharePoint apps let you view documents, so we'll probably look at thin-client technology.”

The council is considering  plans to extend the MobileIron functionality across the city's 270 school sites, supporting 15,000 educational staff in their work. It is also investigating a shared services initiative where smaller surrounding councils could  benefit from the platform. Hunter said he has already spoken to a number of councils about the implementation.


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