Bring your own device (BYOD) may have been a phrase feared by public authorities in the past, conjuring up images of confidential data flying unmonitored between smartphones and laptops and getting into the wrong hands.
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While more realistic concerns around security still exist, the technology has grown and now key public bodies have signed off the idea of employees using their own devices in the workplace, as long as all necessary precautions are taken.
Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council is one organisation that has taken BYOD by the horns and its CIO is a definite advocate.
“We have loads of staff and they all have these devices which they walk around with receiving personal email,” said Steve Halliday, CIO of the council and recently appointed president ofSOCITM (The Society of Information Technology Management).
“They wanted the devices to receive corporate email, but it was something until recently I wasn’t able to give because of information security.
“When the market then evolved, I jumped at the chance and snapped it up.”
There are 3,000 staff employed at the Unitary Authority which provides all local services for the area, from tax to schooling and has a budget of £150m.
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Back in 2011, the council committed to reduce its total office space, costs and carbon usage by 30% by 2016 and decided remote working was the answer to this green initiative.
Solihull began by embracing the ‘your own device at home’ (YODAH) principle to encourage employees to work remotely and connect to the corporate network using their own technology, but this wasn’t stopping employees trying to use their devices in the workplace.
“Staff could not connect to the corporate network, but the problem is the more you lock someone out, the more crafty they become to find ways around it,” Halliday explained.
“They could forward singular emails to their personal Gmail or Yahoo account so they could work on them on their own device for example.
"Yes, we can prevent mass forwarding, but there is nothing you can do to stop those individual emails. The more you resist, the more it creates risk.”
Solihull began by rolling out a solution from Microsoft but the experience far from impressed Halliday and soon his team began looking for an alternative.
“That previous one had a cumbersome UI, but the key thing with a BYOD solution is meant to manage virus intrusion,” he said.
“Microsoft did that but only with a small sub-set of virus protection software. Our next choice had a much bigger list.”
Hilary Staton, technical operations manager at Solihull, who was tasked by Halliday to find the right technology, found Juniper Networks was the best fit.
“With a much more agile workforce, we were looking at ways to maximise our assets, including hardware,” she said. “Although we’ve had a BYOD strategy implemented for a while, it was important that a new network partner could take this to the next level with us, in line with our objectives for 2016.
The more you lock someone out, the more crafty they become to find ways around it
Steve Halliday, CIO, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council
“We needed a highly secure solution, capable of integrating with all of our services and, crucially, compatible with our diverse technical environment. Juniper was clearly able to meet our requirements, and we’ve [now] implemented several Juniper Networks SA4500 SSL VPN Appliances which are used for remote access by our staff.”
The deployment itself took a few months, but Halliday explained this was a managed process to phase out the Microsoft solution and bring in the update from Juniper.
But now it is completed, the staff has had a great reaction and the benefits have gone beyond what the council had originally planned.
“There are the commercial benefits of course,” explained Halliday, “but if you look at it, only 4-5% of my IT spend is on desktop, be it laptops, PCs or iPads. If you save on a small percentage of that, then the number is quite small.”
Instead, he believes it is the working relationship between staff, executives and IT that has felt the real change.
“If you have [users] who have all these shiny toys but the IT department is saying they can’t use them, you create a barrier between them and they look elsewhere for a solution,” he added. “By saying come on in, what we have is something you want, it works better.
“CIOs spend good money on consultants to improve the working relationship. By saving some money, I seem to have achieved the same thing. It is a critical aspect because we work better together as a team.”
Halliday even quoted Solihull’s director of business transformation, who said BYOD “was the most liberating technology” he had used over his 30 years of public service.
“That is quite a statement.”
Now the roll-out is complete, the whole management team at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council is looking to the future with more resources at their disposal.
“There is a whole raft of things we can do in the future thanks to this technology,” said Halliday. “It is the efficiency that will make such a difference.
“If we are 10% more efficient thanks to BYOD that is the equivalent of freeing up 10 people for every hundred staff. We are not thinking of making those people redundant but instead we have created capacity to take on more work.”
He concluded: “It is a true soft benefit and makes the organisation more efficient and more effective.“