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When venturing into new terrain, Boy Scouts pride themselves on being prepared for all sorts of dangers. For Clint Andera, IT director for the Northern Star Council Boy Scouts of America in Minnesota, new terrain comes in the form of bring-your-own-device iPads, along with the danger of data loss.
“With more managers working from out of the office than ever before, it’s important we provide remote employees with instant access to the network without compromising on security,” Andera says.
An organization exploring iPad use isn’t anything new, but the Northern Star Council has taken a somewhat different path. Andera is using BYOD as a test bed for iPads, as well as a new cloud-based virtual private network service that doesn’t require much startup costs or end-user hoops to jump through.
The Northern Star Council isn’t just some Boy Scouts troop; it serves 75,000 kids and 21,000 adult volunteers in 25 counties. On the tech side, Andera and another IT staffer support 150 workstations, 30 printers and 18 servers. All tallied, 108 employees spread out in two offices and remote sites tap the network daily.
Recently, a handful of employees wanted their iPads to plug into the network.
Andera saw an opportunity to test the BYOD movement to find out how an iPad can really benefit the Northern Star Council. After all, BYOD employees are passionate about technology. They’ll explore and test out apps and usage scenarios to prove that the iPad deserves a place on the network.
“By having people bring their own, they’ll be the power users to help us figure that out,” Andera says. “The value of the iPad is going to be in finding those apps.”
But IT can’t leave apps up to BYOD power users alone. Andera says IT must be intimately involved in choosing apps because BYOD users will often ask IT for advice. Consider file browser apps: There are lots of choices, and all can access files. But to the end user, they all look the same.
For IT, though, file browser iPad apps differ in many ways. The “right” iPad app may depend on how a network is already set up to work with workstations, thus making things a little more unified. “You’ve got to spend some time playing with them and figuring out what’s good, what’s bad,” Andera says.
While many CIOs start a BYOD program with designs to let more employees bring in personal devices, Northern Star Council takes the opposite approach. If BYOD iPads show their worth and begin replacing workstations as the go-to computer, then Northern Star Council will likely flip BYOD into a company-owned iPad approach.
Company-owned iPads are easier to secure, support and manage for a small IT staff, says Andera.
“We’ve been able to get into a pretty good cycle of hardware management” for workstations, he says. “When people come and go, we can manage the resources. From a support standpoint, uniformity eases support.”
Even among test-bed BYOD iPads, security and ease-of-security was top of mind for Andera, which is why he wanted to bring VPN to the iPad. He chose Asavie Technologies’ iSimplyConnect, a cloud-based service for remote VPN access for iOS devices launched earlier this month, in part because he was already familiar with Asavie.
Also, iSimplyConnect seemed to be made for test-bed BYOD iPads. Andera installs the agent on his servers, and end-users download the free app from the App Store. While other VPN solutions are sold via licensing packages, iSimplyConnect matches one user to one account.
“If I add 10 users, I add 10 accounts,” Andera says. “It can be done on the fly.”
VPN use on iPads also allows employees to be more productive by providing quick access to corporate apps such as email.
Prior to iSimplyConnect, an employee would take notes on his iPad during meetings. His pricey iPad essentially replaced a cheap legal pad. Now that his iPad is on the VPN and configured to ActiveSync, he can also tap into corporate email, calendar, contacts and, critically, network files.
“I see VPN as making the iPad a productivity tool for the organization,” Andera says.
[Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com.]