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Cisco CIO: Going mobile is tough for enterprises

Feb 16, 20063 mins
Cellular NetworksCisco SystemsNetwork Security

Despite improvements in recent years, the wireless industry has done a poor job of giving enterprises the tools they need to let workers access corporate data from mobile devices, Cisco’s CIO said Thursday at the 3GSM World Congress.

Brad Boston, senior vice president and CIO at Cisco, said he was amazed as he walked around the show floor here to see how many companies are focussed on consumers rather than the enterprise. “There’s a lack of focus on what we need,” he said in a speech Thursday morning.

He figures that Cisco represents an opportunity for the mobile industry to sell as many as 40,000 devices. Yet it’s been a constant struggle for him to develop a mobile program for workers, he said.

Boston began planning a mobile strategy a few years when he found there were about 12,000 Palm- and Windows-based devices being used by Cisco workers, and that many were being used to access corporate data. He was concerned a lack of security in the devices could allow Cisco intellectual property to leak into the wrong hands. To regain control, his team began to develop a program to support the mobile devices.

It wasn’t easy. Boston found there was no single place to buy all the software he needed, and his team had to cobble together components to secure and manage the devices and enable remote access to corporate data. “When I talk to my peers, they all have the same problem,” he said.

Another challenge was that operators like to customize devices with their own software and branding. That can be difficult for a global company like Cisco, which would have to test its corporate software on a device that may be sold by 30 or more operators around the globe. Instead, Cisco bought devices directly from a vendor and hired a third party to provision the SIM cards. “We want a non-branded device that we can customize,” Boston said.

Over the last six months, Cisco has put 6,000 wireless PDAs in the hands of workers and plans to grow that number to 15,000 over the next six months, Boston said. Cisco sales people will be able to place orders, check the status of a customer problem, approve contracts and file expenses.

While Boston had a lot to complain about, he said some things have improved over the past few years. Two years ago he offered PDAs to some sales people, but if the devices ran out of power they lost the customizations made to the software. The devices were too hard to re-configure so the sales people stopped using them, he said.

Boston’s message appeared to have been noted by HP, which makes PDAs for use by mobile workers.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity in the enterprise,” said Shane Robison, HP’s chief strategy and technology officer, in a speech after Boston’s at 3GSM.


Nancy Gohring is a freelance journalist who started writing about mobile phones just in time to cover the transition to digital. She's written about PCs from Hanover, cellular networks from Singapore, wireless standards from Cyprus, cloud computing from Seattle and just about any technology subject you can think of from Las Vegas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Computerworld, Wired, the Seattle Times and other well-respected publications.

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