Smartphones and tablets have moved from executive toys to essential work tools, according to customers on a panel at the AirWatch Connect conference in Melbourne. However, smart mobile devices have not replaced laptops in all cases, they said.
At the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) in Victoria, the smart devices were initially seen as a "cool toy," said Mark Bryant, application and web development manager at DEPI. Executives began to buy them as a "status symbol" and demand increased among the rest of employees.
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While DEPI originally didn't allow the devices, the department now provides them to any employee who has a good reason. "They're now a critical business tool and we couldn't live without them--already--and that's only going to grow."
Australia Post has become "a tablet-oriented organisation" after a similar transition, said Simon Gowland, head of network and voice service. It started with "executives getting nice new toys" and now it's a "critical tool of trade for everyone," he said.
Australia Post plans to use mobility and geo-location to increase engagement with customers, Gowland said. For example, mail truck drivers will be able to use tablets to communicate with the recipient of a parcel an hour before delivery, he said.
Telstra is moving its 40,000 internal users from BlackBerry and other legacy devices, said Telstra program manager, James Beaine. "For us, it was a staged approach," he said. "We were heavily BlackBerry at one stage, and that's slowly turning into Android and iPad."
China Light and Power (CLP) has about 1000 devices, including 800 iOS and 200 Android, said Pubudu Abayasiri, an IT official at the company. The devices are used by the company's information and field workers, he said.
The mobile devices are only a "partial laptop replacement" for the information workers, said Abayasiri. The other officials agreed that laptops aren't going anywhere yet.
"We had grand ambitions of giving everyone iPads and taking back their laptops," said Bryant. However, the tablets have allowed DEPI to save some money by trading in some of the laptops for desktop computers. Simultaneously, DEPI has reduced the number of desktop computers in certain remote locations, he said.
"There are some scenarios where we can do a replacement, but it's not the utopia we thought it might be."
Tablets are replacing laptops in Australia Post's sales team, said Gowland. "Are we there yet? Probably not. From the corporate perspective, it's just another device."
Some Telstra employees are "mobility users" who see smartphones and tablets as a replacement, said Beaine. But others still want to have a bigger screen, he said. In the future, hybrid Windows devices could convince more traditional computer users to move to a mobile device, he said.
Abayasiri said he was caught "slightly off guard" by how quickly mobility has taken off in the workplace. "We didn't expect users would be coming to us on a regular basis" to ask about using Whatsapp and other free apps for work, he said.
"It's difficult to explain to users that some of these free things are not really free. They cost us in terms of security exposure."
When CLP discovered many employees were using Whatsapp, "what we tried to do was accept the fact they were using it, but try to find a more secure solution for them."
The best way to stop users from using an insecure app is to provide them with a secure alternative, agreed Beaine. "Until that's there, we sort of can't stop people from doing it because we're not giving them another means or way to do it."
BYOD or CYOD?
While Gowland said Australia Post has embraced bring your own device (BYOD), the officials from Telstra, CLP and the DEPI officials said they have restrictions on what devices their employees can use in the workplace.
"BYOD is something we do have today," Gowland said. "The plan was always to roll out MDM to all our corporate-provided devices first, but it is absolutely coming down the wire pretty fast. We are going to enforce anyone who wants to connect using a BYOD device, whether it be a tablet or smartphone, will have to have the MDM solution on their device."
Telstra has a choose-your-own-device (CYOD) policy in which it whitelists what devices staff can use, said Beaine.
"The operational management [of BYOD] is very high," he explained. "We're not allowing people to come in with a BYOD device necessarily. If they do, it's at their own cost."
CLP does CYOD because it would be "impossible" to support all of the devices people want to connect to the network, said Abayasiri. The company only allows iOS devices and recent Samsung Galaxy smartphones, including the S3, S4 and Note 2, he said.
The DEPI limits the number of devices it supports to reduce costs, said Bryant. The company only allows iOS devices, he said.
"Early on, we had ... really high demand for BYOD," but after removing "red tape" preventing users from getting a smart device, the demand dropped off, he said.
A few still wanted to use their Android devices, he said. "Instead of saying no, I just said, 'here's a brand new iPhone 5 and I'll pay for it. Do you want it?'"
"Nine out of 10 times, the answer was yes."
Adam Bender travelled to Melbourne as a guest of AirWatch.
Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam