Apple squashes BlackBerry as Brent Borough deploys iPads

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Apple squashes BlackBerry as Brent Borough deploys iPads

Cliff Saran

London Borough of Brent is planning to provide staff with up to 3,000 iPads and iPhones as it phases out Blackberry smartphones.

London Borough of Brent will use MobileIron’s mobile device management software to secure the devices.

Brent had previously deployed 490 Blackberry smartphones for email. By February 2013, these will be phased out, and replaced by iPads and iPhones, which will give the borough greater flexibility in terms of access to mobile applications over the locked-down email system from Research in Motion (RIM).

Brent Borough Council wants to equip more of its employees, particularly its field workers who are constantly on the move, with iPads to improve productivity across all public service divisions including transport, education, housing and social care, leisure and waste management. It needed a way of effectively securing and managing these devices and the data on them.

Disconnecting Microsoft heritage

The new building will mainly use thin clients running Quest thin client access software to provide a Windows 7 desktop. There will also be up to 150 task-specific PCs deployed. 

Stephan Conaway, CIO, at London Borough of Brent is hoping to move away from the idea of the Microsoft desktop, where IT departments generally deploy 50 to 60 Windows applications. “The desktop paradigm is not valid anymore,” he said.

Conaway believes the standard Microsoft desktop will not be around in 10 years’ time. “Microsoft has had a stranglehold over industry for 25 years. Suddenly there is a paradigm shift, so we don’t have to go back to paying £25 to upgrade each Windows PC and the tie in with Microsoft Enterprise licensing. This model is collapsing.”

He said Brent Borough Council has licensed Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel for every user, as part of an Enterprise Agreement, but only about 350 people use them, which is a significant waste in terms of licence fees.

However, Conaway believes Microsoft’s Surface tablet may be a winner, so long as the supplier does not tie it into any Microsoft volume licensing schemes. 

“The industry has just broken out of jail, and now it all depends on how Microsoft behaves next,” he said.

The borough runs several version of the Windows operating system, which complicates rolling out applications compared to the way apps are deployed via the Apple AppStore.

“There is no image management on iOS. We haven’t needed to pay for iOS upgrades and they all install automatically across all iPad and iPhone devices," he said. "If I had to upgrade on Windows, I would shoot myself.”

But not all applications are suitable for the iPad. And even the ones that are browser-based may need to be re-developed. 

Conaway believes local authorities will struggle, as the line-of-business applications they tend to use are developed by smaller who may not have the resources to rework software for new devices like the iPad or Android tablets.

He said, “The industry is heading to HTML5. But, in local government we have small suppliers, who have no margin to redevelop software, and their skill set is tied up in the technology they already have. It will take years for an industry shift.”

The iPads are being used to run line-of-business applications including forms-based applications, presentations, Microsoft SharePoint, file sharing, document writing, and some lightweight spreadsheet work. The council is also looking at front-end applications for social services and new modules for highways, and schools, which will run via the iPad’s Safari web browser.

The MobileIron software is used to secure iOS, enabling the borough’s mobile staff to use the full functionality of their iPads and iPhones without restrictions. They will need to download MobileIron software before connecting with the borough’s network. MobileIron enforces the borough’s PIN policies on each device to prevent unauthorised access and allows IT staff to remotely wipe data from lost or stolen machines

Low-cost iPhones

London Borough of Brent has been able to benefit from a contract with Vodafone, which will enable staff to use iPhones as an extension to the borough’s existing telephony system using call routing.

Stephan Conaway, CIO, at London Borough of Brent said the borough was able to lower device costs by opting for refurbished iPhones, rather than brand new ones, although 100 executives will be issued with the latest iPhone 5.

He said: “Other staff will get reconditioned 3Gs,which will allow us to standardise iOS 6.” 

Conaway was able to source 2,700 iPhone 3Gs devices from a supplier specialising in shipping large numbers of refurbished iPhones. The savings through buying refurbished iPhones meant the cost to the borough of each device was about the same as the cost of a low-end Android smartphone, according to Conaway.

He was also able to negotiate a discount on licensing the MobileIron mobile device management software across the estate of iOS devices at Brent. Conaway said the overall cost of the licensing was comparable to the previous BlackBerry Enterprise Server, 

Brent Borough Council has experienced direct productivity benefits since the introduction of iPads at the borough, Conaway said: "Being able to deploy iPads securely has been a huge productivity boost for our staff. We had previously tried to have caseworkers carry laptops with them, but found that approach not right for many front line workers. Having MobileIron in place lets us provision the right device for the right person at the right time."

The roll-out fits with the borough’s move to a new office in December 2012, which will support hot-desking. 

The new premises will be a fully wireless building, which will support both public and private wireless access. 

Conaway said: “The security we have gone for is to trust no one. We don’t care what network you have, we will consider you hostile.” 

The iPads and iPhones will be checked before they can connect securely.

Deploying MobileIron

Brent Borough Council hired integrator Qolcom to configure the MobileIron system. 

Keith Reading, director of Qolcom, said MobileIron was being used at Brent Borough Council to manage the borough’s iPads and provide infrastructure and automation. 

He said: “The MobileIron software provides secure management of devices, using configuration files to setup iPads with privacy, security, calendar task settings.” 

MobileIron is also used to provision WiFi and VPN access. In addition, MobileIron Sentry software is used to control access to Microsoft Exchange for email. Reading said Sentry basically acts as a middle man to check that the iPhone or iPad has the correct security settings, before allowing access to the Exchange email server. 

Qolcom also mapped user credentials in Brent’s Windows Active Directory to user policies with MobileIron’s own database, which associates iPhone and iPad users with groups, each of which can be given differing levels of access to the borough’s IT systems. 

Delivery of the pre-configured MobileIron system took three days, which included a preconsultation. Qolcomm provided Brent with software images to install on the borough’s VMware infrastructure.


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