April 26, 2013 By Colin Wood
This past December, IT officials in Staunton, Va., credited as the birthplace of the city manager form of municipal government, realized it was time for a new mobile device solution for their users. The department commissioned a new back-end mobile device management (MDM) system and transitioned from supporting an environment of 25 BlackBerrys to 40 Samsung Galaxy S II devices.
For Staunton, a small city with a population nearing 25,000, the time frame was immediate. The city chose Santa Clara, Calif.-based Amtel as its implementation vendor, according to Chief Technology Officer Kurt Plowman, because the company stood ready to meet the deadline.
“We had a lot of folks who had been asking for smartphone technology capabilities and didn’t want to go the BlackBerry route. Our server was getting old and dilapidated and it was time to do something new and different,” Plowman said. BlackBerrys had served the city’s needs until then, in part because of the amount of control IT officials had over how they were used. “Being in IT, we tend to be control freak people and just getting a device and letting the end user run with it scared me a little bit,” he said.
To set their minds at ease regarding their ability to protect their digital ecosystem, the city officials sought a replacement to their BlackBerrys that offered sophisticated app controls and features like remote wipe.
After looking at five or six different solutions, they selected a vendor who committed to turning their order around in 10 days. By day seven, Plowman said, it became clear the vendor would not be able to deliver the product as promised. That’s when they went to Amtel. City officials placed a phone call on a Saturday morning, and by Monday, the city had a working deployment.
One of the biggest changes they noted coming from their old BlackBerry system, Plowman said, was the huge number of features available. “The capabilities are much more extensive than what we’re currently using,” he said.
Looking back, the city’s main concern about the switch, he said, was getting things running quickly and smoothly without disrupting security or creating new problems by introducing too much to the users at once.
“Some of these users have never had a smartphone,” he explained. As users become more comfortable with the phones and administrators master the MDM system, they’ll begin rolling out more features. For now, the city prefers a controlled system to a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) setup.
Plowman doesn’t rule out the possibility of a BYOD policy for Staunton employees in the future, though. “We’ve wrestled with that,” he explained. “We have a lot of users who don’t have city-owned devices who still want access to the tools and the software. But the city isn’t ready to manage many different kinds of devices and everything that does along with that."
Despite the learning curve, the city is “extremely happy” with itsnew devices and MDM software as well as the service and support from Amtel. “We have a lot more room to grow with the tool as we learn to use these new features as we go on,” he said.