Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

MDM Helps Bank Manage Apple iPhones, iPads

Apple's iPhones and iPads are popular consumer devices, but they've also found their way into corporate environments. Needham Bank is no exception. The bank, which was founded in 1892, has $1.2 billion in assets and 130 employees. It operates in several locations in Massachusetts, including Dedham, Medfield, Wellesley and Westwood.

Beginning in 2010, executives began bringing iPhones into the bank and wanted to use them for work. "Our senior executives really liked working with iPhones," says James Gordon, VP of IT for Needham Bank. They thought the systems were intuitive and easier to carry than laptops.

As a result, the financial institution began issuing iPhones to key managers, so everyone with the title of VP or higher received a company iPhone. The bank then added iPads for top executives. Eventually, the bank extended its policy so any employee could use a personal Apple device for work. Today, about half of Needham's employees work with Apple mobile products. "Our employees now interact with these devices and no longer carry laptops," says Gordon. The mobile devices make it easier for employees to respond to questions or issues because they have phones or tablets with them all the time.

However, the change added new chores to an overburdened IT department. The staff had to keep tabs on all the devices issued, upgrade them when needed and make sure corporate information was secure. As a result, IT expended a lot of time and effort whenever Apple updated its software. "We had to reach out to our users, they had to drop off their phone to IT in a certain time window, we updated the devices, and they then had to pick it up," says Gordon. "The process was inefficient and time-consuming."

Security was another issue. "We needed to be sure that employees were safeguarding information on the mobile systems and not inadvertently downloading viruses," he says.

The bank decided to investigate mobile device management software. In early 2011, it looked at several products, including those from Good Technology, McAfee and MobileIron. (InformationWeek Reports tested MDM products from Good, Symantec and RIM. You can download the complete report here.)

The IT department reviewed demo software from each vendor, and ultimately chose MobileIron. One reason was that Apple had certified the MobileIron software through Apple's app certification process, so the bank was confident the MDM product would work with iOS. The bank's IT department also liked the management controls the software would allow them to exercise over the devices, including inventory and asset management, device configuration and encryption.

Now the bank mandates that employees who are issued iPhones or bring them into work must download MobileIron.The system automates software updates, so the IT department no longer is responsible for that task.

The system also has made securing the mobile devices easier. MobileIron's platform gives IT administrators the ability to determine which apps can and cannot be downloaded. Needham Bank set it up so employees who wish to access corporate webmail must go through a VPN with two-factor authentication. In addition, if any employee tries to disable Apple's location service to avoid being tracked, an alert will be sent to the IT department. The user's mobile email would then automatically be disabled until the issue is resolved. Those capabilities are enforced by MobileIron.

While Needham isn't alone in grappling with managing mobile devices, it's one of the few companies to use MDM. Just 26% of respondents to InformationWeek's 2013 Mobile Device Management and Security Survey say their companies have deployed the technology; another 17% are in the process of implementing it.

Gordon wouldn't say how much the bank spent on the system, but he says it paid for itself after the first year. One way was by reducing the number of help desk calls that came in for Windows support because more employees were moving away from their laptops and PCs. Gordon says the IT staff was getting about 90 help desk calls a week; that number has dwindled to one or two.

In fact, the bank is in the process of moving away from PCs entirely. The company has been gradually weaning employees off of laptops and desktops; many of the top execs now rely on entirely on iPads, while other employees use desktops only on occasion. The company is moving to a virtual desktop environment instead, which can be supported on iOS devices.

In addition, the MDM software streamlined the management of mobile devices. "If we tried to put all of the checks that MobileIron delivers in place manually, we would have to add at least one more full-time employee," says Gordon.

The productivity improvements extend beyond the IT department: iOS devices have essentially replaced paper notepads and pens. "Whenever meetings are held, everyone looks at and exchanges information generated on their iPhones or iPads," says Gordon. "The company is much more efficient and better able to serve our customers now than before."

Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in data center issues. He is based in Sudbury, Mass., and can be reached at [email protected].