How Verizon Wireless successfully deployed over 4,000 tablets

by George Jones

January 4 2012

If you’re going to sell tablets to corporations, you should probably use them in your own organization. Verizon's solution enables both.

(This is part one of a two-part feature. This first half focuses on Verizon’s own deployment. On Friday January 6, we'll shed light on how Verizon's customers are doing the same.)

As we see more and more large-scale tablet deployments in corporations around the world, TabTimes thought it would be interesting to explore how an organization that sells tablets actually uses them in its own organization.

With this in mind, we spoke to two Verizon Wireless employees: Mike Schaefer, Executive Director of Verizon Wireless Business Marketing and Ed Gaughan, Associate Director of IT Enterprise Mobility. Schaefer manages sales teams across the country; Gaughan helps to manage the company’s internal mobile initiatives.

The insights both professionals shared conveyed not only some potential best practices around deployment and maintenance but, we think will also make managers, workers and IT professionals feel better about your own tablet programs and initiatives.

It turns out that Verizon is experiencing the same challenges and growing pains around tablets and BYOD that you are.

Verizon’s deployment: Corporate devices only (for now)

For Verizon, deploying over 4,000 tablets across its corporate sales organization was a no-brainer. Yes, it would be counter-productive to have a laptop-equipped sales force selling tablets to businesses. But the underlying truth is that, just like for everyone else, for Verizon, tablets are simply a more effective mobile solution.

Equally important: This kind of mass deployment offered Verizon Wireless the opportunity to essentially focus-test the large-scale deployment, maintenance, and ongoing use of tablets in the same kind of corporate environment the company is selling its products into.

“Tablets are a big part of what Verizon does from a device perspective, Schaefer told TabTimes. “We wanted to make sure that as we’re talking to customers every day, we’re eating our own dogfood.”

To wit, Verizon Wireless put a mix of working Android and iPad tablets (not samples) in the hands of all of its salespeople in the field. The sales team uses these devices for everything from basic productivity to accessing sales training to reviewing presentation decks for its customers.

Schaefer, who’s on the road two weeks out of every month, admits that it took him a few weeks to get used to not having a laptop. But as he got more accustomed to it, he found a surprising residual benefit in not having to pull his laptop out of his bag at airport security. “It’s therapeutic,” he joked.

No BYOD

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprising given that the first wave of deployment was the sales team tasked with selling Verizon-equipped tablets to corporate customers, Verizon's IT does not support employees who want to bring their own devices to work.

“The way our security works, we only support corporate-owned devices,” enterprise mobility IT director Ed Gaughan explained. “But what’s happened with this project is that it’s provided the foundation for us to look at how we would do BYOD going forward.”

Like a lot of other companies, Verizon Wireless’ current no-BYOD policy will probably change over time. “When tablets came out, it pushed the envelope of how we looked internally from an IT perspective, Mike Schaefer said. “Whether it’s a five-person firm, or a 500-employee regional bank…or a large enterprise of several thousand lines or government related entities, what we’re hearing every day is that BYOD is huge.”

“Certainly from our perspective, the cost-benefit of not having to deploy devices when it would be a duplicative device for an employee, there are significant gains.

'We’re hearing the same things from our customers that we’re living internally.”

The wireless provider uses Citrix’ desktop virtualization app to allow its employees access to the corporate network, printers, and desktop-only applications like Microsoft Outlook. “When we deployed Citrix and virtualized the desktop, having this connected environment allowed us to mobilize applications that we didn’t have as native clients on the devices," Gaughan explained.

However, while Gaughan agreed that BYOD would probably be allowed at some point, he added that going forward, Verizon Wireless mobility-oriented IT would look to “provide different classes of services for corporate-owned devices and personal-owned devices.” This is consistent with what TabTimes is hearing about other large corporate tablet deployments.

The golden path of self-provisioning

Verizon made its initial deployment of 4,000 tablets fairly rapidly over the course of six weeks. Incredibly, during the first two months of supporting tablets across the organization, Gaughan reports that IT only received 40 help requests.

The secret sauce, he says, was the self-service model Verizon used for provisioning, which not only walked employees through the whole set-up process, but also allowed workers to do so at their own leisure.

The deployed tablets included every device Verizon sells. “We try to have the latest devices in our employees hands,” Mike Schaefer said. “It’s important for our employees to understand the different operating systems so we can meet all our customers’ needs.” (As an aside, Verizon has a tablet leasing program that allows its SMB customers the ability to constantly cycle through the newest tablets as well.)

Verizon uses all the protections afforded by its MDM client - Sybase Afaria - with only a few exceptions. Encrypted connectivity, device wiping, and enforced complex passwords are all active on all deployed devices.

Despite the ability to do so, the company has not enforced or used the ability to lock down the cameras as of yet.

Verizon Wireless also automatically grants provisioned employees access to a proprietary app store, where the team can download apps for Sales Force integration and more.

TabTimes’ assumption was that Verizon would dole out unlimited 3G and 4G network plans to all of its employees with tablets, but that’s not the case. “We use the same plans that anyone has,” Schaefer explains. “Our goal at Verizon Wireless is that you need to be able to put yourself in the position of the customers every day, so we manage our use just as if we were a normal business customer.”

For Schaefer, the benefits of an always-connected tablet are indisputable, however. “When you have that kind of connectivity, it brings businesses closer. The ability to have a face—to-face conversation with anyone in the world at any time, is invaluable.

“I have direct reports all over the country. They may not always like it,” he laughed. “But I love it.”

“It’s a constant feedback loop”

Feedback and iteration is an important aspect of Verizon Wireless’ tablet program. After launch, the company surveyed all of its employees with tablets to find out what they liked and didn’t like. (Verizon does this with everything it launches internally.)

Beyond this, the support teams conduct monthly surveys with users in the field around usage. And management works with the IT group to make sure the program continues to continue to evolve and enhance the program.

“We recognize that this isn’t a static effort, says Schaefer. “We’ll continue to make sure we have the latest devices and the latest applications and that we have the right processes in place.

It’s a constant feedback loop.”

Android vs. iPad

From Verizon’s virtualization-oriented perspective, Android offers more for business customers. “With Android we’re seeing better functionality because we can use a Bluetooth mouse vs. a finger or stylus in iOS,” Gaughan stated, “but we’re working very closely with Citrix on functionality they can add to the client to make it more desktop like.”

For Schaefer, the stylus paired with the ability to annotate documents on the fly has quickly become indispensable. “Being able to take a PDF and annotate to a presentation on the fly and then being able to shoot it out to his sales team to make the following changes is a huge time saver.”

At the end of the day, Verizon’s deployment isn’t just helping on the sales end. It’s also resulting in heightened productivity. “For good or bad, the answer is absolutely yes—our sales team is working more hours,” Schaefer says.

“A perfect example is my own use case, which drives my wife crazy. On a Sunday if we’re watching a movie and I pull out my laptop, it feels like I’m working. If I pull out my tablet, it just feels less onerous.

“My team doesn’t feel like we’re working a lot harder. They feel like they’re working a lot smarter.”

George Jones is the Editor of TabTimes, and has been writing about technology since 1992

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