8 ways to tame mobile devices in the workplace

Experts offer tips for controlling costs and securing your agency's mobile devices

Agencies are swimming against the current in their efforts to corral mobile devices. But there is hope for managing all these devices.

Several industry experts offered tips for agency executives to follow to control costs and improve security as more employees carry smart phones and other devices intended to improve on-the-job efficiency.

Mobile Manager’s Checklist: Controlling Costs

1. Centralize and streamline management.

Centralization makes it easier to consolidate wireless plans for volume discounts and ensure that security policies are applied uniformly at all offices, which helps reduce ongoing administrative costs. Software from MobileIron, Sybase, Trust Digital and others enforces management and security policies from a central console for a mix of handheld devices, such as BlackBerrys, iPhones, and handhelds that run Google Android or Windows Mobile.

2. Consider outsourcing.

Telecommunications expense management vendors can analyze agency usage patterns, identify cost-cutting opportunities and negotiate with carriers for better deals. Organizations should evaluate service providers for their ability to slice and dice data according to individual agency needs, said Michele Pelino, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. Three contractors that offer such services are listed under the General Services Administration's Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative. Effective management of expenses can save agencies an estimated 26 percent on their wireless services, according to GSA.

3. Pick a pooling plan.

With a single flat-rate pool of minutes, mobile managers can balance the costs of infrequent phone users with power users who frequently exceed their monthly minutes, said Bernard McMonagle, associate director of federal government data solutions at Verizon Wireless. But do your homework to determine the appropriate pool amounts because overage charges can be billed at five times the standard rate.

4. Eliminate ghost phones.

Ten percent or more of active wireless lines at large agencies are allocated to users who have moved on. "By eliminating those lines right off the bat, you see 10 percent in savings," said Jin Kang, president of iSYS, a provider of telecom expense management services.

Mobile Manager's Checklist: Security

1. Don't underestimate mobile threats.

New applications that take advantage of faster cellular networks will increase the amount of sensitive data stored on smart phones and wireless-enabled laptop PCs, making them attractive targets for hackers. Protect laptops by using virtual private network software that launches when the device connects to agency servers, said David Barton, director of wireless security at AT&T Mobility. In addition, FIPS 140-2 encryption is de rigueur for all federal mobile devices.

2. Keep devices current.

Security policies must include mechanisms for keeping patches, firewalls, and encryption and antivirus software up-to-date. As noted in the checklist for controlling costs, MobileIron, Sybase, Trust Digital and other vendors offer software that lets organizations use a central console to enforce management and security policies on mobile devices.

"Managers can use the system to push out authorized applications and periodically check each device to see if there's anything out of compliance," said Bob Laurence, Sybase's public-sector vice president and general manager.

3. Vet the extras.

Officials should carefully consider whether to disable ancillary features on mobile devices, such as built-in cameras and wireless Bluetooth connectivity. The other option is to not buy products with those features if the agency's policy forbids them.

4. Use two-factor authentication when necessary.

For additional security, augment system passwords with device add-ons, such as government smart-card readers or biometric fingerprint scanners. "This provides added security on the device itself in addition to what's on [agency] servers," said Bernard McMonagle, associate director of federal government data solutions at Verizon Wireless.

About the Author

Alan Joch is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire.

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