Evaluate Weigh the pros and cons of technologies, products and projects you are considering.

Rethinking the desktop, a CIO spearheads a mobile device strategy

Facing a Windows 7 upgrade, CIO Rick Roy rethinks the desktop with a mobile device strategy that cut costs, offers choice -- and makes IT look smart.

Faced with an upgrade to Windows 7, CIO Rick Roy saw an opportunity to launch a mobile device strategy that would save his company money, give employees choice -- and make IT look good in the process. His first order of business was convincing an IT team hardwired for standardization that mobility required a new mind-set. In this SearchCIO.com podcast, Roy, who heads IT strategy at CUNA Mutual Group, describes his meticulous, data-driven approach to crafting a mobile device strategy that will transform the insurance provider's desktop computing environment radically. One important lesson: While the requirements for a mobile device strategy need to be gathered bottom-up, he said, "you need to make those decisions pretty much top-of-the-house."

Play now:
Download for later:

A talk with CUNA Mutual's Rick Roy

  • Internet Explorer: Right Click > Save Target As
  • Firefox: Right Click > Save Link As


Hi, I'm Linda Tucci, senior news writer for SearchCIO.com, talking today with Rick Roy. Rick is the CIO at CUNA Mutual Group, a financial services company headquartered in Madison, Wis. Before being named CIO in 2008, he was vice president of customer operations; and before that, he served as the company's chief technology officer.

Welcome, Rick. Thanks for joining me today.
Roy: Thanks, Linda. It's great to be with you.

I know from our past conversations that you've been thinking hard about a mobile device strategy for CUNA Mutual and are poised to make some pretty big changes to your computing environment. This is a topic that's really on the minds of a lot of CIOs these days, but the question is often, "Where do you begin?" How did your effort get started?
Roy: Well, we started to think about this probably from the same vantage point that a lot of firms have, which is: We knew that we were going to have a upcoming desktop-productivity, operating system upgrade that we would be looking at to move off of Windows XP to Windows 7. Then, as we thought about mobility more, we started to marry the two together to really try to think about a more comprehensive approach to identifying who gets what device, what those devices look like and how they work together -- so, whether it is a Windows 7 desktop in the future, a laptop, an iPad, a smartphone, really trying to think about this more from the user perspective as a opposed to the device perspective.

And recognizing that the pure mobility world certainly is changing so fast, we really came to a conclusion that we needed to start to think about a more flexible delivery model, which is kind of different than where most of us have been in IT. We've been in a place of trying to standardize everything all these years; and with all the choice available in the mobile world, it is really a challenge to try to use that standardization strategy these days.

What are some the questions you had to ask to move forward on the mobile device strategy?
The first question we started with was, "Do we have a very clear picture of what we have today?" So, we went through and really did a hard refresh of the data on what users have what types of devices today. And then we moved from there to really starting to identify different personas, different types of users, based on their usage patterns. Do they work in the office? Do they travel? Do they need a highly mobile solution? Or do they tend to be a knowledge worker perhaps more oriented to working in their office at their desk? Starting to really think through these different personas and then marrying some different combinations of technology that is available today to match the requirements of those different personas.

For a high-powered knowledge worker, maybe a financial analyst or an IT developer, the iPad is not a great device because they have a need to do a lot of local processing [and] have a lot of software installed locally to do their jobs. By the same token, most executives aren't creating content like that. Instead they are consuming content. Well, for that audience, perhaps the iPad is a very compelling device.

So, have you worked with the business on actually parsing who gets what?
We have, and we're doing it in a fairly top-down way. We've been having a regular dialogue with our top leaders in the company, including our CEO, Jeff Post, on this, to really get them thinking about what kind of choice we might want to offer our employees and how for their respective areas, they may or may not want to standardize. While we may offer choice in the organization, Bob Trunzo, our COO, might make a business decision that says, "For my sales force, I want a standard offering." So, starting to get them to think about what their choices are but also, in a world where they have more choice, how they might deploy across their different areas of responsibility. You really need to make those decisions pretty much top-of-the-house. You want to understand requirements bottom-up, but you have to decision it top-down.

Let's talk about cost implications. How are you thinking about the value of this mobility strategy?
You have to be very crisp on the value and the benefit. In this case, the benefits range from what I would commonly refer to as hard benefits, as well as soft benefits. So, hard benefits: In our case, we have a lot of laptops deployed in this organization. While some users and different user personas absolutely should have a laptop, not everyone needs a laptop. Laptops are very expensive platforms -- and it is not just hardware. The whole support infrastructure on laptops causes it to be a very expensive platform.

So, one way we can drive hard benefits is to reduce the number of laptops we have from where we are today, and to virtualize some of the desktops we have so they are not all physical-desktop tower-type computers in people's offices. That gives us some cost benefit, and it gives us some other cost benefits -- disaster recovery and the like.

I think a soft benefit is certainly, in the mobile world, productivity. You definitely get a different connectedness -- and more than email and Web.

What about some of the other softer benefits -- the qualitative benefits? I know you've talked about customer perception and also perception of IT. Can you go into that a little bit more?
Sure. In the case of our sales professionals, doing a really nice personal presentation, face to face in an office with a customer, using a device like an iPad and kind of setting the tone of "We're current, we're using the latest technologies; and by the way, this technology really does lend itself to a very nice, kind of rich presentation" -- [that] would be an example of that, externally.

Internally, what we've found is [that] our organization expects IT to be thought leaders with regards to technology. And I think there is a real trap for CIOs and for IT areas of any corporation: If you dig in on what you have and don't stay current with what's possible, your users will go right around you. That has always been a risk, but that risk is enormous today because it is so easy for anyone, as a consumer, to get access to mobile technology. I think IT has to be very careful not to get relegated to a place where the users become the real thought leaders and IT is scrambling to keep up. Not a good place to be, and certainly not a place that is adding value.

IT has to be very careful not to get relegated to a place where the users become the real thought leaders and IT is scrambling to keep up.

Have you gotten any pushback either on the business or IT side to making this change
I would say on the business side, not really. Instead, the reception we've received has been very warm and very welcome. Users do want choice, and where we've given them choice, we've gotten very positive feedback. The only pushback we've received -- and it was much more early on than now, as we're getting deeper into this -- is in our IT support ranks. Again, our DNA has always been [to] standardize and then support a standardized platform. So, the concept of giving choice to the users and having to support it was really, really scary to them in the beginning. There was a lot of "Oh my goodness, how are we going to support all these platforms, and what are we going to do when they call our help desk?" And it wasn't a resistance to the technology per se; it was more a fear of "My goodness, did we just open Pandora's box from a support perspective?"

As we deploy more choice, more variety of devices, our real experience has been the devices and the software running on the devices [have] come such a long way. The amount of support that is required is really minimal. So, while those fears were very real in the beginning, they have calmed down quite a bit because our actual experience has been [that] the actual user with an iPhone or a 'Droid is not calling the IT help desk for help. They go out, they download an app from the app store or iTunes; and if they get themselves all goofed up and it isn't working, they delete the app and they reinstall it. The sophistication of the user is way beyond what we all have seen historically.

So, your IT heroes may turn out to be like the Maytag repair man?
Well, perhaps. [Laughs] I don't think they feel that way today, because there is a lot work to do, certainly to roll out, design and deploy these kinds of choices. But, yeah, in the end, I think that might be a good thing for us to aspire to -- have our help desk feel a bit lonely. That would be a good thing. I like that, Linda. I'm going to use that.

Would you describe your environment now? How many laptops are out there now, and how many you think you may actually do away with if you're going to a virtual desktop and a combination of some type of mobile device? 
Sure, we have about 2,00 laptops deployed today. We have a little over 4,000 employees. We think that 2,000 will probably go down as much as 50%. It's a little early to tell. And, again, the reason it would go down is we have some users who have a laptop and yet their real usage is more non-traveling. Maybe they access email from home occasionally. And in that case they don't need a laptop. We can give them a virtual desktop, and they can do that off a home PC or a Mac.

And then some of that category of laptop user -- and I would put myself in this category -- really don't need a laptop. And devices like the iPad, because we are consumers of content, not necessarily creators of content, are the superior device. The iPad offers certain features that most laptops do not, and the downside of, say, an iPad really isn't a downside to us as users because we're not in there creating new Excel worksheets and PowerPoint presentations, and things of this nature.

Rick, you've told me you're not a gadget guy, that you don't have to have the latest and greatest. And yet here you are championing choice for mobile devices and maybe even "bring your own device" at CUNA Mutual. How did this come about?
Well, I don't know if I could attribute it to just one experience. But I had a bit of a personal epiphany. One of my children attends college in Boston, and I was visiting her and she took me into the Apple store in downtown Boston, which is just a fantastic retail outlet. And it was a week after the iPad had been introduced. Looking at the users in that store, the people buying those devices, getting a quick demo from one of the salespeople as to what the device could do, I came to the conclusion that there was really something to this and we'd better pay close attention because it was pretty compelling. So, I came back from that weekend, and we actually went out the following Monday and bought some iPads to start testing.

And I would say that experience and using some of the new technology, hands-on, has helped not only me but some of my leaders really appreciate what's possible. I think when you're in a corporate world, it is easy to get comfortable with what you have. Yet the reality is, the speed of innovation, the velocity of change that we're seeing and the acceleration of that velocity is just so enormous. I have become an advocate for testing things even though they may not be ready for prime time because it helps us be better leaders -- certainly, better thought leaders -- because we can say, "We've tried this particular thing and we know it is not so good; it is not ready yet." Or in some cases, "Boy, we've tried it and it is really good, and we might want to consider it as an alternative."

Dig Deeper on Enterprise systems management

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.