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CUNA Mutual Charts Desktop and Mobile Device Strategy to 'IT Personas'

Overruling conventional wisdom on platform standardization, CUNA Mutual has implemented a choice model for mobile computing and is matching corporate devices to 18 distinct user types within the enterprise.

Standardization is a byword of sound IT management, but CUNA Mutual (Madison, Wisc.) found a reason to question conventional wisdom as its IT organization faced a Microsoft Windows 7 migration. Rather than simply upgrade the company's desktop infrastructure, CIO Rick Roy undertook an analysis of the company's 4,000 employees computing equipment and use patterns and developed a multiple device strategy based on 18 user "personas."

The seeds of the strategy were planted in Roy's mind in the spring of 2010 soon after the release of the first iPad, he recalls. "I had an epiphany while visiting my daughter in Boston," Roy says. "In an Apple store downtown I saw people buying the device and saw its applicability to corporate life."

The following Monday morning Roy bought four and started testing their applicability to business processes. "We discovered that it was a very compelling device for certain kinds of users," he relates. "That set us on the path of thinking of the characteristics of those users or personas."

Roy's team found the iPad and, to a lesser extent smart phones such as iPhone and Android, provided easy access, a high degree of usability and good functionality to certain users. However, it was also clear that they were not as compelling an alternative for knowledge workers who create a significant volume of content.

CUNA Mutual analyzed the characteristics of its users and existing patterns of use and matched it against device technology available today, says Roy. "We think of matching solutions to users because users are more consistent in terms of their requirements and solutions are very dynamic," he says. "We recognize that the solution side is a fairly fast-moving target; we think the innovation curve is a positive thing, but not everyone in corporate IT sees it that way."

CUNA Mutual determined that maximize productivity could be achieved by matching devices to six basic user types with three further subtypes, yielding 18 distinct IT user personas. "We started with 18 and thought we would solve for that number, but we soon saw commonalities," Roy explains. "The first category was executives, then knowledge workers, which for us are heavy-duty content creators in finance, actuarial, legal, IT underwriting and corporate communications."

The other categories CUNA Mutual identified were task workers, such as internal or external call center staff or claims personnel who needed less computing power than content producers; the company's remote, nationally deployed captive sales force, which required mobility; a broad category of contractors including staff augmentation, with a variety of computing needs; and finally a "catch-all" category of subsidiaries of the parent company that might not be integrated within corporate technology.

Beneath each of the six categories are three further qualifiers, according to Roy. The first is whether the user creates content, second is the user's need for mobility, and finally is a consideration of the size of the category and its cost implications.

"The executive segment isn't that big, so whatever devices are deemed appropriate don't involve a large number of users," Roy explains. "But in the case of hundreds of task workers, I care more about the ultimate cost of devices, so I'll prefer to put them up virtually or provide a very 'skinnied-down' PC."

Roy emphasizes that the analysis allows for nuanced considerations within a given category, for example leaving room to decide exactly how much computing power a given knowledge worker might need. CUNA Mutual also went to a choice model for mobile devices, including iPads and smart phones in the first quarter of 2011, he relates. Users have a choice of smart phone type but are required to download the company's enterprise security package.

"Not surprisingly, we've seen a dramatic increase in people willing to have their personal device act as corporate, now that we've allowed them to do that," Roy notes.

CUNA Mutual will rollout a new virtual environment before the end of 2011 and will complete the bulk of its desktop rollout, including Windows 7, during 2012. "That will likely take us into 2013 but it's not about devices; it's about apps," Roy qualifies. "Many apps that users are running will be compatible, some wont, so we have to inventory and figure out what to do with those that don't."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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