Mobile Years are like Dog Years: highly accelerated. Case in point: when Ford Motor Company started thinking about Bring Your Own Device back in May 2007, it figured that demand for laptops would outstrip that for smartphones or tablets. And the mobile devices that workers picked would run Windows Mobile, Nokia's Symbian operating system and Palm, predicted Ford experts.
You may chuckle. Indeed, when Randy Nunez, a senior network engineer for Ford, shared this anecdote during his excellent presentation last week at IDC's mobileNext Forum in San Francisco, it drew a laugh from the audience.
But when Nunez received that fateful e-mail from his CIO asking to investigate BYOD, Microsoft was the chief alternative to BlackBerries. iPhones were only several months old at the time, while Android was not yet announced.
The moral? Deploying mobile devices in a large company is "a little like painting the Golden Gate Bridge," he said. By the time you think you're done, the environment has changed and "you have to start all over again."
There were many great presentations by enterprises at mobileNext, many of them touching on BYOD.
But Nunez's talk about Ford's experience stood out for its frankness as well as its wise insights.
Ford's motivation to look into BYOD as a reaction to two trends: Consumerization of IT, as well as the new habits of 20-something Millennial employees.
To re-emphasize how forward-looking Ford really was in 2007, a quick search of Google News shows zero stories about BYOD, at least related to mobile devices (there were stories about Bring Your Own Dog and Borrow Your Own Dancer, but I digress).
Ford's Randy Nunez: Deploying BYOD in a huge company like Ford is a bit like "painting the Golden Gate Bridge."
To investigate BYOD, Ford created a cross-functional team consisting of managers from the IT, legal, HR, accounting and other departments.
"We tried to quantify the risk versus the reward," Nunez said. Naturally, each member of the group brought their own concerns about security, laws and user support. Combine that with the fact that there was no hard and set deadline, and the BYOD task force couldn't agree on the way forward.
So it created a report outlining the benefits, risks and costs, and sent it to senior management, to make a ruling.
That not only broke the deadlock, says Nunez, but also got strong buy-in from the executives. With that, Ford moved forward in the second quarter of 2009 - exactly two years later - on a program it calls eMail on Personally Owned Devices, or ePOD.
ePOD is not the most cutting-edge BYOD program around. Workers who are accepted into ePOD are only allowed to check their Ford e-mail, as well as their personal calendars, contacts and task lists from their personally-owned devices, on or off Ford campus.
"This is for the casual user, not for someone for whom mobility is critical for their job," said Nunez. Also, ePOD users need to be tech-savvy, as Ford doesn't provide any technical support. Calls to Ford's help desk about ePOD are referred to a Web site where employees offer each other technical support.
ePOD is more about employee convenience than about saving them money. Employees pay for the cost of the device and all subscription fees. Ford only bears back-end costs such as servers or software licenses.
For Ford, these limitations were the result of the financial reality it and other American automakers were facing several years ago.
"It was a cost-effective way of getting into the game," Nunez said.
ePOD has still proven popular with Ford employees. Ford has 2,700 employees in the BYOD program. 800 use BlackBerries (there are another 3,000 employees who use BlackBerries that are owned and paid for by Ford).
While BlackBerry support debuted in 2009, Apple support began a year later, in September 2010. Today, 1,900 employees use iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches. These devices are secured using Mobile Device Management (MDM) software.
Nunez says the BYOD program has been considered a success at Ford. Executive support has been key, he says, as has the narrow scope of the BYOD program, which has resulted in a low TCO.
"We didn't give the keys to the kingdom away," he said.
What is in the future for Ford's BYOD program? Ford plans to begin supporting Android devices this month. That rollout was slowed due to concerns over Android security, he acknowledged. Deployments of apps remain in limbo, he said, partly because the company wants to make sure it can secure the apps as well as have sufficient network connectivity on campus to support that heavier load.
Ford's recent financial success also has the company weighing whether to offer employee stipends as reimbursement for their personal devices, Nunez said.
A quick plug: I'll be covering the Mobility portion of the next Tuesday's SAP Influencer Summit. Basically, my parent company will trot out top executives to speak to top market analysts about next year's strategy and roadmap. If you're interested in what we're doing in enterprise mobile apps, development and management, follow me on Twitter at @ericylai on Dec. 13 starting 6 am PST or watch the hashtag #SAPsummit.