SF Giants CIO: Security, cost challenges in BYOD

The San Francisco Giants' bring-your-own-device policy controls costs, secures data and manages service-level expectations

As the use of mobile devices proliferates, the CIO of the San Francisco Giants, Bill Schlough, is trying to keep office workers and baseball fans connected while grappling with bandwidth, cost and security challenges.

The concept of personal mobile devices using Giants' resources isn't new to Schlough, as the organization has provided Wi-Fi access at their home stadium, AT&T Park in San Francisco, since 2004. But more baseball fans are bringing tablets and smartphones into the stadium for real-time communication on social networks like Facebook, and the organization is handling more mobile devices brought to work by employees.

"We have to push forward in storage and bandwidth to support office and fans," Schlough said in an interview.

The Giants take into account how mobile devices are used by baseball fans and the organization's employees, Schlough pointed out. The use of mobile devices by fans is tied more to things like in-game status updates on social networks, which is a lot different from just five years ago when text messages were the major form of such communication. The company has to update bandwidth and storage on a regular basis as it tries to provide the best technology resources to baseball fans, Schlough said.

Employees using mobile devices for work is tied to the core operations of the Giants organization, and there are security and cost issues that need to be kept in mind, Schlough said. The organization has a one-page policy that provides guidelines for the usage of personal smartphones and tablets at work.

The company wants to allow employees to use personal tablets and smartphones, though it's not practical to support a big range of OSes, Schlough said. The organization has also implemented safeguards to contain costs, secure corporate data and manage service-level expectations.

The organization is relatively small with 160 employees and an IT staff of only 11, and it is not feasible to support a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy with a well-defined approved list of devices and application-usage model.

"We're not an IT company, we're a baseball team ... and our front office should not have the expertise in various technologies," Schlough said.

So the organization is keeping its BYOD policies simple. Among the guidelines for smartphones or tablets brought in by employees is the need for mobile devices to be secured by a passcode. The Giants IT department must be able to perform a remote wipe of all corporate data if the device is lost or stolen. A number of remote wipe tools are available for Android and iOS devices.

Employees have to purchase their own devices they intend to use for work, though there are some exceptions. The Giants organization also does not reimburse for any associated expenses on BYOD devices, and does not provide service or support, except in a few circumstances.

Also, not all business content can be accessed via personal devices and functionality is not guaranteed or optimized for all mobile device models, Schlough said.

So far the organization has deployed and largely supported iPads. The company provides tablets to players and coaches.

"This is a direct result of overwhelming 'bottom up' demand from our user base, the need to accommodate this demand and a desire to standardize in order to reduce our support burden," Schlough said.

The baseball team is also trying to stay ahead of its rival organizations by loading up the stadium with some of the latest technologies, but with a big infrastructure to handle, the support burden is on the top of Schlough's mind. Tablets are known for touchscreen capabilities and portability, but the Giants have elected to deploy all-in-one touchscreen desktops in kiosks across AT&T Park to gather user input on hot-button issues and to canvas votes for contests.

The all-in-ones can be locked down and are fully functional computers with strong graphics capabilities, which give them a leg up over tablets. The all-in-ones are made by Hewlett-Packard and use microprocessors from Advanced Micro Devices, which is known for its strong integrated graphics capabilities.

"A tablet doesn't make sense in a suite. They'll spill their garlic fries on it," Schlough said, referencing the food AT&T Park is renowned for.

It's also easier to secure and deploy a consistent software image across a batch of all-in-ones, Schlough said.

Though tablets are increasingly coming into the organization's operations, the Giants mainly support a 50/50 mix of laptops and desktops, and the organization is just getting a look at all-in-ones for office use.

"Nobody just has a tablet. Tablet is an incremental device," Schlough said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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