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Ways to set the stage to encourage a strong mobile workforce

Mobile policies and devices don't matter if the internal infrastructure isn't in place to support a strong mobile workforce. Learn how a CIO is paving the way for a mobile future.

When you think of the word mobile, what comes to mind? A laptop? A smartphone? An iPad? All of these devices are options to help improve your mobile workforce -- however, being mobile involves a lot more than the device you choose to use. Back-end services need to be in place to support mobile workforce efforts. After all, if an organization has not rolled out mobile-friendly services, the device doesn't matter much.

As CIO of Westminster College, I'm working on ways to enhance mobility and to enable anytime, anywhere, any-device computing -- at least as much as we can.

As I mentioned, mobility includes the full spectrum of mobile devices, services and policies surrounding the use of institutional services and data. As we continue the ever-present IT upgrade cycle, we sometimes prioritize those functions that can have a positive impact on mobility, particularly if those efforts mean better outreach to our faculty, staff and students.

Here is our implementation roadmap, outlining some key changes we're making at Westminster College to set the stage for a mobile workforce:

Exchange Server 2010

Within a few weeks, we'll have migrated from Exchange Server 2007 to Exchange Server 2010. Although there are a lot of reasons for this transition, we were drawn to the Exchange Server 2010 Outlook Web App support for browsers other than Internet Explorer. As an academic institution, we support a wide range of devices that we don't necessarily control. Providing our user base with services that we are able to support, and those that are as device/browser agnostic as possible, is becoming increasingly important to us.

Under Exchange, we also support the use of ActiveSync-based devices. Although we do not currently support BlackBerry-based devices, our primary demand has revolved around the use of the iPhone and Windows Mobile-based devices, and both work extremely well with Exchange.

SharePoint 2010

We're moving steadily deeper into SharePoint, using it for our front-end website and all of our workflow-based business processes. As a key application for us, there are a number of ways that we're working to extend our use of SharePoint to enhance our mobile workforce efforts.

First, by moving from our existing SharePoint 2007-based implementation to SharePoint 2010, we unlock additional browser support -- SharePoint 2010 extends SharePoint's browser support to include both Firefox and Safari. Of course, there are other system limitations that prevent 100% compatibility; Microsoft is very up front about this fact and provides complete documentation on what to expect from 64-bit and non-IE browsers.

Next, as we look to our legacy services, such as our existing unstructured file services, we're eyeing SharePoint as a way to provide some structure for our files and folders. Beyond adding powerful indexing capability, migrating to a SharePoint-based structured document/file management system will enable full access to critical information anytime, anywhere. Microsoft has even extended the Office platform to use SharePoint as if it were a file system, making SharePoint an obvious choice when it comes to document storage and accessibility.

Virtual desktops

Sometimes, it's not enough to simply provide access to files, email and other sources of information. There comes a time when users require a complete computing environment, whether it's a full PC at the office, a terminal, an iPad or even a mobile phone. It's easy today to consume a full desktop experience from just about anywhere and with just about any device for which there is a suitable client.

We need full access to all services, anytime and from anywhere, but we also want to simplify the desktop environment. Enter virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

With VDI, we'll be able to provide our complete user base a full computing experience accessible anytime, anywhere, with access to most of the same software titles currently found in our on campus computer labs. For employees, we can replace their existing physical desktops with terminals that attach to a VDI session and enable them to work from anywhere, opening up the possibility for easy-to-implement work-from-home applications.

Although Westminster College is a small institution, we're working hard to make mobility and ubiquity the order of the day. There are still some processes and issues we are working through (including how to keep our mobile environment as secure as possible), but we're confident that our current plans will help us build the base for a strong mobile workforce.

Scott Lowe is CIO of Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. Write to him at or

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