Red Hat to employees: yes, please bring new apps to work

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Bring us your cool, useful, and productivity-heightening apps and devices and we'll look at them and work to support your efforts.

That's the unique view that Linux vendor Red Hat takes when it comes to the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon that's prevalent in the world of enterprise IT.

Instead of being reflexively cautious and  restrictive about which devices and apps their 5,500 worldwide employees can use for work, Red Hat actually asks its workers to share great consumer and business apps so they can be considered for the company's enterprise IT tool arsenal.

That's how Red Hat, which began selling Linux operating systems and other open source applications back in 1995, has learned about consumer-based applications and devices that help its employees get their work done today, said Lee Congdon, the company's Chief Information Officer.

"We're very comfortable with this idea of BYOD," Congdon told CITEworld. "We view consumer technologies in our daily operations as a core technology for us."

That means that when employees find a consumer app that works for them and helps them with their jobs, Congdon and his team want to hear about them.

"We do encourage our folks to explore" different applications, said Congdon. "We are an open source company, so that is part of our mantra. We encourage our folks to bring to us the things that might increase their productivity."

With that in mind, Red Hat employees test out and explore hundreds of consumer apps a year, Congdon estimated, with about five to ten of those being adopted annually by the company for use by other workers.

 "In addition, we as an IT organization go out and look for them, too," said Congdon. "If appropriate, we'll package it and make it part of our corporate technology services. We want our people to innovate in that regard."

That's how Red Hat has discovered many of the consumer-based applications that are now part of its business arsenal, said Congdon. Those include Google+ Hangouts for collaboration by developers, Skype by sales people and others who travel for their jobs, YouTube for sharing information with open source communities, customers and partners, and Google Apps to share documents and spreadsheets with external parties.

This kind of flexibility has been a great tool for the company as it continues to move more of its business processes to mobile applications, he said. That means more needs for mobile sales automation and other business apps, many of which begin as consumer-based apps that can also be used and morphed to fill business requirements.

The open app innovation, however, does have some restrictions when it comes to data security and privacy, said Congdon. "It all comes with the idea that people have to use caution and be aware of the data and privacy," he said. "They have to be aware that the data is probably not private if they are using one of these tools," and that extra steps have to be taken to secure them for corporate use.

In recent months, Red Hat employees have uncovered a host of interesting products that are being explored, said Congdon.

One of them is BrainShark, which lets users automate and share online and mobile presentations, while adding a voice-over to the content, adding cool capabilities for sales teams, said Congdon. "You can take an eight-page deck and quickly do a voice-over and then you can distribute it to the audience of your choice," while incorporating other documents. "They you can get feedback on who read it and how many people read it. It came to us through our sales organization. They needed a new way to disseminate information around the globe."

Once it was used by some employees and found to be helpful, Red Hat's IT team looked at it from an IT security standpoint , negotiated a contract and made it available to all employees, said Congdon.

Another recent need for many employees was an app that would allow sharing of documents, according to Congdon.  "We actually had a good range of sharing utilities in use, with some folks using consumer tools to share files from home to work and back."

Quickly, though, it became clear that with lots of sharing tools out there, it would be better to find one that could be used as a corporate-wide app for everyone to have some consistency, he said. "We determined that it would be less than optimal if everyone chose their own tool."

That's how Red Hat got involved with SpiderOak, a data backup, synchronization, and sharing app that includes privacy and security for Red Hat's data, customers, and employees. "We selected one tool that we're now deploying across the entire organization that runs on Linux, iOS, or Windows for backup and file sharing across the enterprise."

As employees find useful apps, not surprisingly the company does have a preference for using open source products, according to Congdon.

Employees also have a lot of freedom when it comes to choosing the BYOD devices they use in their jobs.

Red Hat gives its 5,500 global employees a smartphone stipend every two years so they can buy a new device, in addition to a sliding scale for the payment of their mobile phone bills, depend on what kinds of work they perform for the company. And if an employee would rather use that stipend for a tablet computer instead, that's just fine. The company is also rolling out a pilot project now to offer stipends for laptop computers for employees who'd rather use a laptop for their work.

It's just another way that the open source company is being open in its BYOD approach with its workers, said Congdon.  

"They can buy whatever they want."

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