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Outage Blackballs BlackBerry, Guides Arrow to BYOD Strategy

Second in a four-part series. Catch up with part one, "BYOD: The New IT Management Headache."

Arrow Container recently joined a movement that is sweeping through corporations large and small: The company decided to dump its Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry smartphones for employee-owned devices. However, to make the switch, the container company needed to find a mobile management product capable of tracking and protecting sensitive data stored on employees' phones.

In business since the 1970s, Arrow Container provides corrugated materials and packaging supplies, such as custom cartons, stock boxes, foams, tapes, kits and special assemblies. The company, which has 100 employees, operates a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Indianapolis. To support its employees, the corporate data center relies on Dell servers running Windows and Linux, connected to 2.5 Tbytes of storage.

Traditionally, about 25 employees--mainly sales staff and a few top executives--used BlackBerrys and Microsoft's Outlook email system to communicate. RIM focused on business use of cell phones and included tools to ensure that employee communications were closely monitored and not open to outside interference.

But about a year ago, Arrow began thinking about moving to an alternative. Increasingly, employees were bringing their own cell phones--mainly Android-based--into the workplace. "We wanted to leverage the investments that employees had already made in their smartphones," notes Jason Charnov, system administrator at Arrow Container. The company wanted to piggyback on those systems and expand the reach of its mobile systems--for instance, by bringing warehouse and production floor staff into conversations about how to build and deliver the company's products to customers.

Reliability was another concern. In October 2011, an outage on the BlackBerry network spread from Europe to the United States during a three-day period and made it impossible for employees to communicate. BlackBerry's service infrastructure suffered a hardware error, and things cascaded as a backup system compounded rather than fixed the problem.

"We questioned whether BlackBerry was the best system for us, moving forward," explains Charnov. Arrow's IT staff members felt they were at a disadvantage because BlackBerry communications were centrally controlled by RIM, and the container supplier was unable to make any adjustments or switch lines if problems arose.

While Arrow wanted more flexibility, it still needed strong security. In November, the company examined products from Centrify, Enterproid and Good Technology.

Enterproid's Divide was selected for a few reasons: Arrow preferred a cloud-based system because it would be easier to deploy and manage. Also, the Enterproid system was easy to use and didn't require a lot of end-user training. Cost was the final factor: Divide was less expensive (about $60 per user, per year) than the alternatives, including the RIM system.

Divide, a Web-based mobile device management system, secures information by creating what the company calls a "dual persona" environment for Android users. Some apps and data are designated for personal use, while enterprise data and applications are firewalled from other applications.

The product, which is now being used by AT&T to secure information for its business customers' data, was in an early development stage. So Arrow undertook a small (three-person) pilot test at the end of the year. The initial results were promising. "One business analyst saw a threefold productivity improvement," notes Charnov.

As a result, the company began rolling out the system, first to the non-sales-force users. The company began communicating more effectively: Machine operators are now part of customer conversations, and the email integration sped up decision making.

However, there are a few enhancements that the company would like, including tighter integration with GPS systems. Arrow would like to be able to track salespersons' movements a bit more easily. Finally, the product's email client could be more intuitive.

In the coming months, Arrow plans to migrate its BlackBerry users off of that system. "Once the migration is complete, we will have more employees using mobile systems to communicate and be able to respond to our customers' needs faster and more efficiently," Charnov says.

Divide is also now available via Apple's App Store and Google Play.

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].