As the world spins closer to having a global economy, and as technologies that support mobile workers become more available, even midsized companies are finding themselves with enterprise-level mobile management issues. Mobile strategy-minded CIOs are having to create secure and reliable blankets of wireless coverage on smaller budgets than those enjoyed by their larger competitors.
This was the challenge that faced Dustin Harris, IT network and security manager at NetIQ Corp., a Portland, Ore.-based company that makes systems and security management and Web analytics tools. NetIQ has offices in Portland, Houston and San Jose, Calif., but the company also depends on mobile workers in Tokyo, Australia, New Zealand and 16 other countries. The company employs about 1,400 people and has annual revenue of about $310 million.
"We had the global sprawl of a big company, but not necessarily the financial resources," Harris says.
Moreover, NetIQ was dissatisfied with the security of its connectivity solution. NetIQ's vendor required remote users to log on with an account name and number determined by the vendor. Not only did that make access information difficult for users to remember, upping calls to the help desk, but it also gave Harris very little control over security. For example, if an employee left the company, Harris couldn't delete that account. "People could leave and keep using our remote access," he says. To make matters worse, the vendor refused to give Harris any insight into usage patterns.
Harris wanted a wide array of access options that could be presented under one bill. He also wanted wireless to be offered in conjunction with wireline, dial-up and Ethernet access.
In his research, Harris discovered a company called iPass Inc., in Redwood Shores, Calif., and was intrigued by what the firm offered. IPass runs a global network that allowed Harris to provide connectivity nearly everyplace in the world, without having to resort to a hodgepodge of different providers. Much to Harris' delight, the network included wireless technology, as well as the more traditional access methods, such as dial-up. As he looked into iPass' security and reporting tools, Harris became convinced that the vendor offered a better choice. He signed on, and completed a 600-user migration smoothly and quickly.
He's had nothing but good vibes from his users. "It's much easier to set up and use," Harris says. "I certainly haven't heard anybody begging to go back." Most important, employees can log in using their NetIQ credentials, making it easier for Harris to track usage.
"It's important for us to save money, and part of that is having more control over who's using the service and when," Harris says. "With iPass, we get really detailed reports that tell us what people are doing, using their real user names. I can see that somebody logged [on] X times from Houston and X times from L.A. Before, I'd just get a printout saying something like, 'NetIQ logged on for X minutes this month.'"
All of this data comes packaged in a customized dashboard that also provides deep support for Harris' help desk, including the ability to pull down spreadsheets containing a detailed history of usage.
Harris is also far more satisfied with iPass' security procedures.
"Before, all the authentification was on the vendor side," he says. "Now, you log on, they pass the credentials to us, we use iPass to authenticate the user against an access directory, and pass the authentication back to iPass. It gives us more control. If somebody leaves the company, we can immediately shut down the account."
Harris' users also like that the iPass client will show all the connectivity options available at one time, including wireless.
"If somebody is sitting at a table in San Jose Airport looking for connectivity, the wireless access information will also be on the client, as well as dial-up options," he says. And the billing for wireless comes in through iPass. "It gets billed to us at a normal rate," he said, "instead of a user putting wireless access on his credit card and expensing it."
According to John Yunker, an analyst with Pyramid Research's business strategies group, user priorities like Harris' are putting iPass -- along with competitors such as Gric Communications Inc. and Fiberlink Communications Corp. -- in an increasingly high-profile position.
"[Companies like iPass] are becoming more important to organizations as their employees demand remote access from an increasingly diverse number of technologies and locations," he says. "Furthermore, [they provide] a level of security that is needed when using wireless networks."
Harris was a bit concerned about the ramifications of putting all of his connectivity eggs into one vendor's basket, so he made sure to scrutinize iPass before signing on the dotted line.
"IPass is smaller than our previous vendor, but they're focused -- they just do this one thing," he says. Ultimately, Harris says, he felt comfortable with iPass' viability.
The bottom line, of course, is cost-savings, and Harris says that he's very pleased in that regard.
"We've saved thousands of dollars a month, and over the course of a year that will add up to significant amounts of money," Harris says. "We get better service, users get better access and more access methods, and we still save money."
About the author: Carol Hildebrand is a freelance writer in Wellesley, Mass.