Baylor looks to wireless security software

Baylor Health Care System in Dallas recently standardized on one wireless handheld device for users, but IT managers worried that security and management of the devices still needed to be bolstered.

That fear led to the installation of device security and management software that works over wireless networks and that, among other features, gives Baylor the capability to disable a handheld wirelessly if it’s ever lost, a Baylor official said this week.

Baylor’s management tactics are part of an emerging trend by IT managers seeking more control over handhelds and wireless devices as their use mushrooms inside companies, analysts said.

For two years, employees at Baylor continually stepped up usage of BlackBerry handhelds from Research In Motion Ltd. in Waterloo, Ont. The handhelds became so vital that doctors, nurses and administrators began jokingly referring to them as “CrackBerries,” said John Crouch, personal communication manager at Baylor. An average Baylor user typically sends and receives 250 wireless BlackBerry messages a week.

Last fall, Baylor decided that its IT staff would support only the BlackBerry for its users, a move designed to cut support costs and administration headaches. There are now about 400 BlackBerrys in use.

“We’ve started rolling out BlackBerry as the standard, and they’ve grown in popularity, but there was no real way to manage them,” Crouch said. “Somebody misplaced one for a brief period [last year], and we realized we had a need to have a security mechanism around these things.”

Through wireless services provider GoAmerica Communications Corp. in Hackensack, N.J., Baylor set up wireless management software called Enterprise Manager from mFormation Technologies Inc. in Edison, NJ.

Users or IT managers can set passwords on BlackBerrys or enable them to lock up if left unused for a set period – a form of protection if a device is found by someone who shouldn’t see sensitive data, Crouch explained. Users can override the automatic lockout.

Baylor can also use mFormation to wirelessly take away a user’s override in ways the user can’t modify. “By doing that, we have a couple of layers of protection,” he said. “We can even lock [the BlackBerry] and wipe data off it completely” wirelessly if the device is lost.

Although such drastic measures have yet to be needed, Baylor officials see the software as a form of insurance. “We don’t want the personal information manager calendar in the wrong hands, and e-mails are sensitive,” Crouch said.

Like many health care centres, Baylor already has policies in place to restrict users from putting patient data in e-mails in the first place.

Noting that security is never inexpensive, Crouch said that GoAmerica charges Baylor about US$5 more per month per user for the mFormation management tools, in addition to an average monthly fee for wireless transport and other services of US$40. Considering how vital the devices have become as a laptop replacement for e-mail access, the cost is worth it, he said.

A spokeswoman for mFormation said the service provider pricing for its software is from US$5 to US$10 per month, based on volume, while a company can buy an Enterprise Manager server for US$20,000 and enable each client device for US$55 to US$75, depending on volume.

Crouch said it’s customary to control functions such as security in-house, but using a hosted model is “simpler absolutely” and GoAmerica is “well-enough established.” Another service provider hosting Baylor’s e-mail attachment process conversion went out of business, so Crouch is leery of possible headaches with some hosting services.

Although the market for mobile security, for both wireless and other handheld devices, remains fairly small, it does include some large companies that work with smaller vendors, said Sally Hudson, a research manager at IDC in Framingham, Mass. She expects sizeable market growth in one to two years.

Among the 20 or so smaller companies that attempt to provide handheld management software, there will be plenty of consolidation, said IDC analyst Stephen Drake. For example, Novell Inc. in December bought Callisto Software Inc., a smaller player in Wheaton, Ill., to give companies such as Waukesha Engine Dresser Inc. in Waukesha, Wis., software capable of managing handhelds. And Mentor Graphics Corp. in Wilsonville, Ore., recently installed handheld management software from XcelleNet Inc. in Alpharetta, Ga., to turn off BlackBerry handhelds wirelessly, if needed.

“As enterprises think about extending applications out to mobile workers on a growing number of mobile devices, mobile device management becomes increasingly critical,” Drake said. “This is becoming a much higher priority on IT’s radar screen, as more and more mobile devices with corporate data residing on them begin to flood the enterprise. Once mobile enablement begins to take off, management and security become crucial.”

Ronni Colville, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said IT managers should make sure management software vendors can support new handheld models and coming smart phones, since handhelds reach obsolescence so quickly.

Baylor tries to be forward-compatible with new handhelds by using standard enterprise platforms, Crouch said. And mFormation has assured Baylor that it will be supporting all types of mobile platforms, including smart phones, he added.