C-level briefing: Terry Willis, Head of IT, talks through why the charity picked Microsoft Lumia devices for its employees.
Like many organisations based around caring for vulnerable people, Age UK has a large number of workers travelling the length and breadth of the country to provide face-to-face care.
As with, for example, salespeople on the move, the shift to using mobile devices is a natural one. However, charitable care shares the dangers of the medical profession in terms of the need to secure data.
"We have a very strong level of data ownership and data governance in the organisation because we deal with a cross-section of vulnerable people and financial data," Terry Willis, Head of IT at Age UK, tells CBR.
If security is the primary concern, then, the natural fit would seem to be BlackBerry, which retains the strongest reputation for the security of its devices. In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel switched from iPhones to BlackBerrys after being the victim of a data breach.
Age UK had used BlackBerrys before, Willis explains. The charity had a fleet of around 600 of the devices and "sweated the asset" for 18 months while deciding on a replacement.
This was because the devices, while secure, had proven inadequate in terms of experience and usability. This is not to mention the company itself.
"BlackBerry was off the table really because the company doesn’t really have a definition going forward and we’re concerned about the longevity of the organisation."
While Willis praised the company’s technical background and network, he explains that Age UK found the devices dated, even in the latest generations.
"They’re not really a digital product, they’re more of an analogue product," explains Willis.
This left a range of options, including the usual suspects: Apple and Android. In fact, with help from partner Maintel, the organisation carried out an internal survey, asking people whether they wanted Apple, Android, or didn’t care.
The survey found that around 35 percent of people didn’t care what kind of device they had. However, it revealed that people’s key requirement from the new devices was that they would be able to open, read and edit Office documents and PDFs, which had been difficult on the BlackBerry devices.
"They wanted to be able to open the documents on the move and see them clearly and deal with them. Most people are very busy these days with very dynamic roles," says Willis.
But neither Apple or Android proved quite right, for different reasons.
Android was cheap enough and could provide the desired user experience, but it was not secure enough.
"We weren’t keen on Android because although you can buy cheap devices there were question marks over their security," says Willis.
On the other hand, Apple was secure enough but far too expensive and would swell the company’s hardware expenditure hugely.
Apple was too expensive, Android was too insecure and BlackBerry was not user-friendly enough. Windows Phone, Willis says, was just right.
"We settled on the fact that a Windows Phone would cost substantially less than an iPhone. Apple is great, but it’s £600 for an iPhone as opposed to £100 for a Windows device."
The choice of the Windows Phone was partially due to the security it offers. Willis attributes this to its lower market penetration, meaning that it hasn’t become a target for cyber-attacks.
However, this wasn’t the only appeal of the devices. Age UK has made a conscious decision to buy into the Windows 10 ecoystem, which by having the same operating system across a range of mobile, desktop, laptop, tablet and virtual reality aims to create a new form of seamless computing.
"It will become a portable PC in many ways. It really depends on us doing some testing on Windows 10 Phone when that comes out on the fleet we’ve bought now. It may be that they are not strong enough and we will look forward in a year or two’s time. The aspirational goal is that we will use those phones as portable devices going forward."
The roll-out, carried out by Maintel, began with some tests around the Lumia set of devices, before Willis’s team settled on the 640 and 640 XL devices. People who wanted a larger screen had the option.
Testing revealed that it made most sense for the company to use Office 365 to enable the employees to deal with different types of documents.
Willis is expecting a 70 percent saving over the next two years compared to the previous years. This will come partially from the reduced licensing costs.
"The fact now that we’re in 365 and we can roll out InTune from the same platform as our server makes life easier for us and is a lot more cost-effective."
The transition from an investment to a consumption model is the key fact here.
"With BES we had to invest in the technology and licensing and keep a maintenance stream. With InTune we just use a consume model. As we consume it we will just add more to it and we can flex up and down if we need to."
Ultimately, Willis views cutting the IT budget as a key factor in helping the vulnerable elderly people the charity supports.
"The money which I use is entrusted to me from the charity and if I don’t spend money it gets to help people out. We’ve got a very caring attitude about how we spend money."