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United Utilities protects field engineering deployment with AirWatch

United Utilities deploys mobile device management software AirWatch to secure Samsung devices running a SAP workforce management app

Northwest water company United Utilities has deployed VMware’s AirWatch mobile device management tool, replacing its existing Blackberry Enterprise Server and extending access to field engineers.

The water utility operates water and sewage processing across Cumbria and up to the border with Scotland. It runs large engineering infrastructure to support around seven million households.

One of the VMware products being used is AirWatch for mobile device management (MDM), primarily to support the 3,250 engineers in the field, as well as support mobile access for office-based staff. The product provides a way for field engineers to run a workforce management system from SAP.

Mike Cashin, IT operations manager at United Utilities, said: “The engineers use Samsung Android phones, mainly S5s, with the SAP workforce management system.”

Among the challenges United Utilities faced when deploying AirWatch to field engineers was the relatively poor mobile data coverage in Cumbria. Some 100 sites at United Utilities have needed additional communications technology installed due to poor mobile coverage.

“Vodafone is working hard to improve coverage, but we’ve also deployed Wi-Fi and data access via satellite communications where we can’t get 3G and 4G coverage to enhance connectivity,” said Cashin.

Sites with a decent WAN can extend connectivity using Wi-Fi repeaters with fitted high-gain antennas. In areas where this is not possible, Cashin said the company deploys satellite communications.

United Utilities is also replacing Blackberry devices with a corporate phone, where AirWatch provides the MDM.

“The MDM market is changing a lot. I keep in touch with our Blackberry account team and they are doing a lot of work on Android now but, at the time we were looking for MDM, Blackberry wasn’t ready.”

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Cashin said the roll-out will enable staff in the head office to use the company-supplied smartphone as a corporate and personal device.

“AirWatch gives us really good control of the data from a corporate point of view, but it also gives us the capability to enable personal use,” he said.

The roll-out began a few weeks ago. “It will be interesting to see how people use the new corporate phone. I was carrying around two devices until a few months ago, but I have given my personal iPhone to my daughter and the corporate phone is now my personal phone,” he said. “The idea of personal enablement is that we carry just one phone.”

Although mobile device manufacturers seem to refresh product lines extremely quickly, Cashin said upgrading to the latest gadgets is not written into thee company’s mobile strategy.

“The mobile strategy was all about how we control the device and the data on it. We’ve chosen Samsung as the phone, and it’s a great device, but the market changes so rapidly. We don’t know what the market will look like in 12 months’ time, so it does not make any sense to tie ourselves to a particular supplier.”

United Utilities has begun developing apps and uses AirWatch for its app store. Cashin said: “We have a fairly embryonic app development teams that have written four apps, which means we can start to expand the use of corporate data on mobile devices.”

This was not possible on the company’s previous Blackberry Enterprise Server, according to Cashin. He added that the company is exploring further opportunities to use mobile devices to provide better access to corporate data.

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