WA Parliament iPad trial exposes IT headaches

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WA Parliament iPad trial exposes IT headaches

CIO gives in after MPs threaten revolt.

A trial of iPads among Western Australian parliamentarians has highlighted the headaches tablet computing create for CIOs.

The trial commenced this year after a group of 15 members of parliament threatened "industrial action" if iPads were not considered in the list of devices available as part of their laptop allowance.

The state's shadow ICT spokesman Andrew Waddell was among them.

"It would be fair to say we were met with a little bit of resistance from the powers that be," he said.

"[The iPad] didn't fit into the existing IT infrastructure or security models. We created that classic pressure of users wanting something, and IT saying you can't have it.

"We told them, 'If you don't give it to us, we will turn around and pass a law so you will give it to us!' Then we refused to fill in the form for new laptops until they included the iPad as an option."

This put a great deal of pressure on Rod Bickers, CIO of the state's Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The perception among enterprise IT, Bickers acknowledged, was that the iPad was a toy.

There were many questions to be answered before it could be considered as a replacement to the laptop.

"How do we provision? How would we measure and evaluate if it was truly of value to members? What are the additional costs of management?" he asked the annual conference for the Australian Computer Society in Western Australia.

Further, how could the devices be secured? Would they work with the Department's fleet of printers?

Reluctantly, his team agreed to a limited trial of the iPad, specifically for MPs charged with manning a committee on local government issues.

Waiting for iPad 2

At the time, Apple's tablet was only in its first generation.

"It was a bit of a challenge to start with," Bickers said. "We had to ask ourselves, 'Is this the right time to do it?'".

Desktop refreshes were required once every three years, and laptops had accelerated device purchasing to once every two years.

But Bickers, cautious about the rate at which Apple refreshed its smartphones, was concerned the iPad would be a one year replacement cycle.

Risking further revolt, Bickers chose to wait for the iPad 2.

Once the iPad 2 became available Bickers and his parliamentary customers faced their first stumbling block: getting their hands on a prototype.

"It was an interesting challenge to get hold of one," Bickers said.

Waddell was among those lined up in front of a retail store to get a device.

Upon using the iPad, Bickers saw benefits for calendaring, contacts and email. Attachments could easily be read, he noted, which wasn't otherwise a great experience on a mobile phone.

He enthusiastically started to consider all of the various paper-based processes that could be replaced within his department using tablet computers.

Made for MPs...

West Australian MP Tony Simpson fell in love with the device. He found he could access information that much faster, with little more than "one swipe and a password,"

Like many other MPs, he often found himself working late, and was amazed that he could use FaceTime to say goodnight to his daughter at home over the net.

"A lot of members of Parliament from country areas either fly in to Perth or drive up," he said.

"We live incredibly busy lives so anything that brings us closer to our electorate, to our staff and our families is a great idea," agrees Waddell.

"Even Steve Jobs wasn't sure who the iPad was created for. I can tell you this: iPads were made for parliamentarians.

"We need to be instant experts on 1000 different topics in any given week and we can access information in an instant."

... Not for IT

But back in the IT Department, pain points had surfaced.

The iOS platform and Safari browser were incompatible with some WA Government websites, in that users couldn't scroll to see all the relevant information.

Members of the committee started demanding parliament's IT shop redevelop these websites.

Bickers also found that all the native applications on the device had compatibility issues when it came to marking up documents.

"It was hard to get a consistent view of a document across these applications," he said.

And from a security perspective, the triallists were unable to come up with a model for secure downloading and sharing of documents.

Committee members began using cloud storage service Dropbox to download and edit documents, which did not impress IT.

"We believe there is absolutely a security issue around that," Bickers said.

"Having said that, [Dropbox] works better than anything else on the iPad. The question became, how do we emulate that on the iPad using a secure corporate application?"

The IT department tested iPad access to Microsoft SharePoint server, but found that downloading, editing and uploading documents back and forth to the server was "a clunky experience".

"You could also try using the native editors in SharePoint, but our users found that wasn't a good experience either," Bickers said.

Wardell acknowledged as a user that using DropBox was "fraught with certain security problems."

But he saw the risk from another perspective.

"We are only one FOI [Freedom of Information] request away from having to hand it over anyway," he said. "So it's not something we have been focusing on."

Bickers couldn't afford to ignore the problem. The department has subsequently invested in Mobile Device Management from AirWatch.

"It took a while to get running, but now we can remotely wipe devices and enforce policies like password protections and back up," he said.

The IT department pre-loaded approved apps for the parliamentarians, but did not use the whitelisting function available in AirWatch.

Bickers thinks he may use this function to lock down applications used by departmental staff.

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Trial success?

The parliamentary users and the IT shop have come to the end of the trial with radically different viewpoints on the device.

Wardell told the ACS event that "the fait accompli has been that the trial has been a big success."

But Bickers pragmatically expressed its success in terms of what the trial set out to achieve: could a tablet computer replace a laptop for Western Australian parliamentarians?

"Does it replace the laptop? Anecdotally so far I would say it doesn't."

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