Harrah's Transitions To Individual-Liable Smartphone Model

By  Susan Nunziata — May 04, 2010

Mark Cross, Senior Manager IT Mobility and Strategy, Harrah's Entertainment, says that in the past six months, the company's interest in the topic of individual-liable versus corporate-liable smartphones has grown.
Approximately 8,000-8,5000 mobile devices are deployed among the company's 70,000 employees. The majority of these are push-to-talk cellphones on the Sprint network. There are about 700 mobile broadband cards in use at the organization. Smartphones account for about a third of all mobile devices in use at Harrah's, and of these, the majority have been BlackBerry devices.
When we spoke with Cross in March 2010, he noted that "Today, we are a completely corporate liable model with a supported finite list of devices on [the top] three carriers in US. We actually push to one carrier if possible, so there's an extra step if someone wants to go with another carrier."
However, in Q2 2010, the company is adding an individual-liable smartphone model. "We're going to still have a CL model, just like we have today," says Cross. "But we are going to reaffirm that we support those devices and those plans. If it's a converged device it will be a BlackBerry. If someone is not happy with that decision, and if they're approved to get a device, or [even] if they are not approved, IL model will say they can get any device they want as long as it supports Good Mobile Messaging."
Should an employee opt to go down that path, Cross says, "We'll pay for that license with Good, and we'll pay for the monthly support [outsourced to Ovation Wireless Management]. The employee will pay for the device, any accessories, and all monthly services and there will be no expensing [any of those costs]."
One of the biggest hurdles in implementing the new smartphone model involved meeting legal and regulatory requirements. "Gaming is a regulated business, and it's different from state-to-state," notes Cross. The company's legal and IT security teams have to be satisfied with the I-L solution. In addition, the policy regarding IL devices has to be clear to the employees, notes Cross. "You need to let the employee know up front [that even] though they are paying for their own device and monthly service, and even though they've chosen to do this, there is still the possibility based on an event that would require HR or security to review that device. That is a huge sticking point for us in terms of language. We're trying to find a middle ground here. If we make it too restrictive and too scary, we may basically kill the momentum of having people come do this and get cost savings and productivity we're looking for."
Notes Cross: "We feel very comfortable with BlackBerry infrastructure, we're a 5.0 shop and we know that anything rolled out on a BlackBerry, regardless if it's IL or CL, we can control."
For everything other than BlackBerry, Cross says Good Mobile Messaging will protect the Harrah's data on the devices.
While email and contacts are the dominant mobile apps for Harrah's smartphone users today, Cross says the company is looking at a wide array of business apps, including workflow solutions for maintenance staff, converged voice and data solutions that unite the desk phone with the mobile device, and mobile concierge services for guests. Cross says the company's roadmap includes exploring additional mobility management solutions, including Mobile Iron, among others.
Cross is projecting an additional 3,000 individual-liable smartphones to come on board within the next 18 months. The company is also building out self-service portals in hopes that individual-liable users will share information and guidance using Wikis and Microsoft SharePoint, which will minimize the volume of tickets hitting the mobile support helpdesk.
Cross offers the following tips for any enterprise considering a similar strategy:
  1. Pull in other groups. "For us it was instrumental to bring in HR and get the pulse of what HR is thinking of the employee, and they brought in extremely valuable input."
  2. Get the pulse of your employees. "We did light surveying across the company, what if questions, what would you pay, and trying to get a pulse of a set of people and spent a little money on Starbucks gift cards to solicit responses."
  3. Keep in touch with carriers. ""We have partnered and continually communicated with carriers about this decision. The way our contracts are written, we get spend-credit for IL as well. So if a user decides to leave CL and get their own device, we want to make sure we're ready on IL front to make sure employees get that discount and sign up as a Harrah's registered user, so that spend credit doesn't go away. We get volume discounts for both CL and IL,. The carriers have listened to us and they see opportunities and we're allowing them to come on property or give us collateral to tell people, for example, that if you have a Sprint line you get an 18% discount as Harrah's employee. We've communicated with carriers how they can help us, and how we can help them. We hope it also makes it more attractive to the employee. 4. Make the business case. Our theme with senior leadership was that if you want to save $1 million we need to spend $100,000. We believe within the next six to 12 months, 1,000 people will leave the corporate-liable program, there will be shift off CL to IL, but we have to spend a little bit of money to protect the business and provide a level of support. It's not free. We have to spend some money, but the IL user will cost 5%-10% [for us] to support, versus the 100% of hardware, service, licenses, and support [under the CL model]."
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