Magazine Article | September 25, 2012

Nevada DOT Implements iPad-Based MDM Solution

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine

A mobile device management (MDM) solution saves 30 to 40 minutes per device during provisioning.

It’s rapidly becoming a fact of life when it comes to mobile technology: Apple iOS-based devices are becoming part of the enterprise landscape, even in tightly controlled IT environments. Technology staff have recognized this and have developed a variety of ways to manage the security and support issues that come along with allowing iPhones and iPads onto the corporate network.

The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) has deployed a new mobile device management (MDM) solution to help support the rapidly increasing number of iOS devices on its network. Originally, when a number of iPads were issued to employees as part of a construction contract, the IT department had to manually provision and support the devices. With the new MDM solution, the team is saving nearly 40 minutes per device for setup and has greatly increased device visibility and security management.

In 2011, NDOT received 20 iPads as part of a road construction contract. In this deployment, construction crew members could use the devices to view data generated by roadside assets, including cameras, flow meters, and weather detection equipment. “The people working on the project could get some visibility into traffic and weather conditions by logging in to a website using the iPads,” says Kimberly Munoz, IT manager at NDOT.

The iPads (which are outfitted with Otterbox protective coverings) were lighter and easier to use than laptops for this particular application. “Once that project was over, we still had the iPads, and demand for those devices grew from there,” Munoz says.

In addition to road crews using the tablets to view data from the roadside devices, a number of managers and other employees are using iPads. Even the pilots who fly the state’s plane are using the tablets for flight mapping. However, securing these devices for enterprise use was a challenge for the IT department.

Cumbersome Mobile Deployment And Management Processes
Initially, IT staff manually configured the devices. Since this process was time-consuming, and because the IT staff knew that additional employees would want to use the Apple devices as well, they began searching for an MDM solution that could help reduce the time required to provision the devices, as well as provide better visibility, security, and application management. “We knew as soon as we received those first 20 devices that it would just be the beginning,” Munoz says. “We don’t have the resources to manually deal with them, and we needed a solution to manage them over the air.”

Improved iPad Visibility
After evaluating a number of MDM solutions, NDOT selected FiberLink’s MaaS360 system. “FiberLink had features we couldn’t get from other vendors at that time,” Munoz says. Primarily, MaaS360 automatically handles Apple’s volume licensing for applications. With volume licensing, the NDOT can purchase licenses for the applications needed on the iPads and have those apps automatically pushed out to the devices in the field. “We just upload the redemption codes, and we don’t have to manually distribute and track them,” Munoz says.

According to Munoz, the IT department is saving 30 to 40 minutes per device during the imaging and setup process, compared to the manual process that was previously required. “We also have much more accessibility to the devices if they are lost or stolen,” she says. “We can send a wipe command from FiberLink to disable them, and we have a full inventory of the devices we have in the field that we can see right in the MaaS360 application.”

In addition to the 49 iPads now in use at NDOT, the MaaS360 system manages several dozen iPhones that are used for email and voice communications by various staff members. “Having the smartphones allows the field crews to get their email and text messages from each other, so they’ve improved communication in the field,” says Jeff Shapiro, chief construction engineer for NDOT.

The number of Apple devices and the ability of users to download a variety of apps pose a significant security challenge to the IT department. Munoz says that the Maas360 solution has helped mitigate many of those issues, although the department is still developing processes to help accommodate the new technology. "We have to take it one issue at a time," Munoz says. "For instance, several apps will turn the devices into a Web server for synchronization purposes, but if they are on a public Wi-Fi network, then anybody else on the network could access the devices."

FiberLink provides visibility into which apps are loaded on each device. "I can blacklist apps to prevent users from installing them, and if they do install them, I can remove corporate data access from those devices," Munoz says. "I also used FiberLink to create an emergency operations group list so I can push down contact information for the operations team in situations where email might be unavailable. I can also push documents down to specific devices."

iPad Works For Some Workers, Rugged Tablets Necessary For Others
There are plans to deploy even more mobile technology moving forward. NDOT recently piloted a system for its construction inspectors that utilized rugged tablets in the field for filling out and filing inspection reports related to outside contractor performance during road construction. "We used that system to document all aspects of the contract — the pay quantities, the daily diaries, and other information," Shapiro says. "The inspectors used the tablets for their daily documentation and then uploaded all of that into the back end systems. You can save labor resources in the field, since they can work faster, and it could save money on the back end since you won't have to assign somebody to manually enter all of that information."

With that pilot winding down, NDOT has issued a request for proposals for a permanent mobile solution to replace paper inspection forms and manual data entry, and an iPad-based solution is among the possibilities. Inspectors are tasked with determining if outside contractors are complying with their contract requirements (for instance, if they are supposed to lay three inches of asphalt, they would be penalized for laying four inches). The ability to file reports on mobile devices could improve efficiency.

"The idea is that the inspectors can monitor the contractors using the tablet," Munoz says. "The information can be automatically synchronized with our systems here to reconcile the contractor invoices and contract management activities."

Munoz expects the number of Apple devices in use at NDOT to increase, regardless of which devices are selected for the inspection solution. Having a robust mobile device management system in place has helped the IT department deploy the devices without straining the department's limited resources and has improved mobile security in the process.