Freescale BYOD plan finds happy users

CIO says project is worth the time and effort despite the lack of a measurable financial return

DALLAS - Tarek ElHadidi, CIO at Freescale Semiconductor , went to engineering school in Cairo in the 1980s. While there, he and other students took part in protests against the Egyptian government, just as the Arab Spring movement did in 2010 and 2011.

But in the 1980s, ElHadidi said, he and a few hundred fellow protestors were quickly dispersed by government forces and could not get their message out to the masses.

In contrast, the Arab Spring movement succeeded in drawing in millions of supporters and removing President Hosni Mubarak from office by taking advantage of mobile technology and social networks.

Speaking at Computerworld's SNW Spring 2012 conference here today, ElHadidi said he sees a similarity between the way repressive governments attempt to shutdown the spread of protester information and the way corporations attempt to limit access to information via mobile devices.

In both cases, he said, the policies are likely to fail.

"We see the consumerization of IT trying to come into our offices and ... our typical reaction is 'let's protect our server rooms and data warehouses,' " ElHadidi said.

Instead, he said,corporate executives should "Embrace this disruption. This is going to happen. We don't want to do what the Egyptian government did."

ElHadidi said about 48% of Freescale's workers are Generation Xers, 28% are Millennials and only 24% are Baby Boomers born in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

Like Arab Spring protestors, young corporate end users are demanding freedom, in this case both in the types of devices they use and and in the way they access and utilize corporate information.

"The perception in the end-user community is, 'I will bypass IT because it's too hard, it's too expensive, and there's too much bureaucracy.' We've seen this pop up everywhere in our company," ElHadidi said.

Such workforce demands are behind Freescale's bring your own device (BYOD) initiative.

Freescale, a maker of semiconductor technology for the automobile, networking and consumer product industries, began implementing a BYOD policy last year.

The company uses the AirWatch mobile device management tool, which currently supports iOS and Research in Motion BlackBerry devices. The company is currently working to add support Android-based devices.

"Consumerization of IT is bringing an empowered set of users. Our approach is to make use of that," ElHadidi said.

Freescale developed a mobile device management policy that allows workers to bring their own devices. The policy requires them to use Microsoft Exchange for email and to agree to having their device remotely wiped if it's lost or they leave the company.

The company currently supports 9,200 mobile devices, including 8,500 that are owned by employees.

"Everyone of those I can track, I can erase and I can secure," he said. "Security is a threat, but it is something we know how to deal with."

The company is also piloting a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployment for end-users with compute intensive requirements, such as software engineering.

"Will our environment move completely to VDI or BYOD? We're not sure, but we know we'll need to manage it," he said.

Freescale has also deployed an enterprise Microsoft SharePoint-based collaboration network that it calls Freeshare.

Launched last year, Freeshare works like Facebook in that it allows communities of users to form and collaborate on specific needs. To date, there are 150 communities on the Freescale internal collaboration network and it's growing at one per day.

"It's being used in ways that we didn't even imagine. It's all over the map. I don't think there's any part of the company not involved in some community," he said.

"We started without any expected, measurable financial return. But we felt it had the potential to change the company's fabric. We felt that if we built it, they would come," he added.

Hadidi said when IT pitched the collaboration network to executives, they didn't try to find a business case for it, such as improving productivity or reduce inventory or increase sales. It just felt "inherently right," he said.

For example, various departments, such as human resources, are using the collaboration network to conduct employee development and training sessions. Freeshare also allowed the company to replace its basic employee directory with a more expansive one.

Grant Martin, an infrastructure engineer for Mennonite Mission Network, called ElHadidi his "hero" during a question-and-answer session following the presentation. Martin explained that he is struggling to get his own company's BYOD project off the launching pad.

ElHadidi explained that if his didn't see a business case for a technology, or can't control it, he doesn't implement it.

But he also cautioned that IT is not the corporate "time police," meaning it's not up to IT to determine how end-users spend their time with mobile devices.

"I say they can sit and read the newspaper. They're either going to work or not," he said. "The fact that you have a telephone doesn't mean you're going to have an intelligent conversation. I'm only supposed to supply the telephone."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian , or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

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