Why this CIO is replacing iOS with Windows tablets and phones

Steve Ballmer at last year's Windows 8 launch. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The CIO for Florida’s Department of Revenue expects to replace the iPhones and iPads used by some of his employees with Windows 8 tablets and Windows Phones. He’s also considering issuing Windows 8 tablets as the single computing device for users, replacing both the desktop and laptop.

With the advances in encryption built into the iPhone 4, Tony Powell, CIO of Florida’s Department of Revenue, issued the phones and iPads to around 50 workers.

“But Windows 8 will take them by storm. They’ll get us [as customers],” Powell told CITEworld during Microsoft’s annual CIO Summit.

Device management is the key reason for the switch to Windows devices. “Right now when I deploy [iPads], I have to have a special set of staff,” he said. “But if you’re running Windows OS, on the backend you manage it with the same staff and same resources you manage your desktops, and you get mobility to boot.”

Powell has two members of his IT staff dedicated to managing iOS devices.

Currently, iPads are being used only by managers because they are very mobile but don’t need to access taxpayer data often. They use the tablets primarily for email. “It’s really more an extension of their communication device for these leaders,” Powell said.

The workers who would gain the most by having tablets are the 650 auditors, most of whom travel around Florida but some who are based in other cities around the country. With a Windows 8 tablet, they would get a lightweight, low-cost replacement to their laptop with access to all of the data and apps that they’re able to access on their laptops, he said.

In fact, Powell is considering deploying Windows 8 tablets to replace desktops as well. “It can run and do anything and has the luxury of mobility,” he said. With a docking station, workers could use it in the office with a full sized monitor and keyboard. They could also have a docking station at home and a portable keyboard for use on the road.

He’s also expecting to replace the iPhones, that are also used by only about 50 people, with Windows Phones. He’s currently conducting a very small trial of Windows Phones– with just six users. If he does decide to go with Windows Phone, users would probably get to choose which hardware they like.

But he doesn’t expect to continue to allow users to choose iPhones or phones on another platform. “I’m scared of BYOD,” he said. “As CIO my role is to help people realize the new power [offered by new technologies], but the reality is the data we carry is not something I will trust cavalierly.”

In addition to the sensitivity of the department's data, Powell has to consider the types of issues that many government agencies face. For instance, he needs to be able to remotely wipe data but worries about issues around wiping personal data. “You enter new realms legally I’m not sure we’re ready to cross,” he said. Deploying a system that separates work and personal data on the phone would require too much extra expense, he said.

Since workers aren't supposed to use their work phones for personal use, many carry two devices. Powell has his iPhone for work and a low-cost feature phone for personal use.

Plus, supporting multiple smartphone platforms would require him to add more staff to manage them, he said. “It’s the cost factor,” he said. “Managing BYOD is so expensive.”

Powell has some time yet before he needs to replace the phones and tablets currently in the field. But if his current trial of the Windows devices goes well, he expects to standardize on Windows.

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