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Embracing IT consumerization 'tricky but fun,' Citrix says

BYOD programs can bring many benefits, but even veteran BYOD shops such as Citrix run into occasional problems.

As many organizations struggle to enable a mobile workforce, they can learn from the mistakes and successes of early adopters.

Citrix Systems Inc. began its transition from an all-BlackBerry environment to a predominantly bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model in 2008. The shift started with a bring-your-own-computer program for laptops, but quickly expanded to incorporate smartphones and tablets once the IT department realized how popular the recently released iPhone had become.

"We noticed people bringing them into work, and some people were bringing two devices, even back then," said Michael McKiernan, vice president of business technology solutions at Citrix.

If I take Windows 7 desktop and put it on an iPhone, it's a nasty experience.

Michael McKiernan,
vice president of business technology solutions, Citrix Systems Inc.

When Apple released the iPhone 3G, Citrix's IT department felt the phone was enterprise-worthy, and BYOD really took off. Today, 27% of the company's employees bring their own computers (typically Macs), and McKiernan estimated that less than 10% still use a BlackBerry.

The company, with more than 7,000 global employees, has the benefit of easy and more affordable access to its own technology products, which are designed to enable secure mobility, McKiernan acknowledged. Many of the lessons learned by McKiernan and Citrix's IT department carry over to other organizations, however.

McKiernan talked with about Citrix's bring-your-own-device program and what comes after figuring out BYOD policy, security and management.

How does your department approach security and management of those devices?

Michael McKiernan: We only do application management for all three. We got out of device management. We still allow native emails, attachments to be downloaded, all of that stuff, through Citrix Receiver. It can virtualize the whole desktop, and depending on what the app is, the usability is okay for the small display.

What we are trying to do is run applications natively -- or as natively as possible -- to give the best experience on a particular device. If I take a Windows 7 desktop and put it on an iPhone, it's a nasty experience because Windows and those applications weren't built for touch.

What would you advise to companies that can't virtualize applications but still want to enable mobile?

McKiernan: Knowing who is going to use a mobile device and how they intend to use it are key. If all they want to do is check email, then enabling mobile isn't so difficult. But if they want to do work, you need to know what applications they might use, when and where, etc. Identity management is another incentive IT must provide. We have 20 SaaS applications, and if users have to remember all those passwords on a mobile device, it's a mess. We do single sign-on through VPN and Active Directory, but there are plenty of options out there.

What's been the biggest challenge during this transition to mobility?

McKiernan: One of the biggest challenges for us has been data loss prevention, which is number one without a doubt. We're doing well on security, but we don't have a silver bullet. What becomes challenging is getting employees to synchronize their data to the data center and have it available on whatever device they use.

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We're about to wade into the fabled 'enterprise Dropbox' portion of the interview.

McKiernan: Dropbox was a big deal. Citrix bought ShareFile, which we use for data and synchronizing, and it works like Box or Dropbox. People get access to data, and it can be rendered in whatever applications they use on whatever device.

Our policy is saying, all corporate data will stay in our data center, and we try to give [users] technology to make them save it back there without forcing them to do so. We trust our users to be good and sync it back to data center. Policy wise, we could prevent data from going into Dropbox in the VPN, but we don't. We trust giving them the tools and training will enable them to do the right thing.

What have you learned about the costs of BYOD?

McKiernan: In essence, it doesn't reduce IT costs. Our [total cost of ownership] over the last few years, we've saved maybe 15%. What happens is, the real money is basically neutral. When employees bring their own, it's a cost transfer. We give them a stipend for a little less than the cost of the machine spread over three years. The real benefit is employee satisfaction. Employees say they are more productive, and they stay at the company longer or work from home more than they would otherwise.

It doesn't save IT expenses or reduce our budget, however. Citrix is fortunate because we already virtualized the desktops and applications for other reasons. If you have to justify the cost of putting in a virtualized infrastructure just for BYO, then that would just be a negative when it comes to organizational costs.

What's surprised you the most about transitioning towards BYOD?

McKiernan: We've had cultural differences in Japan and Scandinavian countries, [where people] are less inclined to participate. They think it's the responsibility of the company to provide them with a smartphone or computer. They just won't do it. It's eye-opening when you realize you can't do one approach for every employee. That's pretty difficult when you're a huge, global enterprise.

The other big surprise for us was, when you look at who participates in BYOD, it's overwhelmingly the 30- to 39-year-olds, because they buy a more expensive device than what the company would provide and they have the money to spend on those devices. It's counterintuitive to the data suggesting this trend [is] being driven by Millennials.

How is the company looking to add value through mobility?

McKiernan: We're trying to leverage data that is in a big enterprise app in a small way on mobile devices. It's getting a small, single-purpose application on a mobile device to take advantage of data and other corporate applications.

For example, we've got an initiative to have unassigned seating in certain locations, because most employees are working from home or traveling. So locating people is a real need now. Finding conference rooms is a need when you're working in different buildings all the time. We're just starting to take advantage of this by combining Google Maps, Microsoft Exchange and facilities management data through an enterprise app.

It's a little tricky, but it's been fun. It's a case of the enterprise catching up with the consumer experience, and when you can blend the two in a managed way, it can create a different productivity experience.

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