When the grants that fund Goodwill International began to require onsite job assistance programs, the organization had no choice but to become a mobile enterprise. Doing this on disparate devices and a nonprofit budget wasn't easy, but remote desktop and mobile management tools did the job.
Facing a fast-growing mobile workforce, Goodwill Industries International, the nonprofit organization with a noble mission to help troubled communities, looked toward its CIO to come up with a mobile solution that wouldn’t break the budget.
“It was a big nightmare,” says CIO Andre Bromes at Goodwill of Greater New York.
Most companies see mobility marching toward them from afar and throw money at it, but Goodwill doesn’t have such luxuries.
Goodwill depends on local, state and federal government grants and programs to fund its services. Over time, these agencies have been changing the terms of those grants. They now require counselors to travel to various locations to provide job training services rather than do it at Goodwill’s computer-filled workshops. And so Goodwill became a mobile enterprise practically overnight.
As Times Change, Mobility Becomes Part of Goodwill’s Mission
Getting mobility right became paramount to Goodwill’s core mission. Goodwill employees not only needed access to homegrown apps over mobile devices, there wasn’t much time for a measured rollout—or room for failure. Apps had to work and be usable. A mobile solution also couldn’t increase frustration for workers in an already stressful job.
If Bromes didn’t get this right, “I knew it would be a resume-generating event,” he says with a nervous laugh.
Then there was troubling mobile sprawl against the backdrop of a tight-fisted budget. Because changes to grants forced Goodwill’s workforce to go mobile, Goodwill had to support 300 existing corporate-owned mobile devices spanning Android devices, iPhones, iPads, Windows 8 tablets and a mishmash of new and old BlackBerrys.
“As a not-for-profit, we have to be fiscally responsible and tend to use devices until they’re hanging on to their last circuit,” Bromes says. Pricey iPhones only recently came into the organization, he adds, although Goodwill did spring for 30 iPads for field sales staff last year.
Turning homegrown desktop Windows apps into flashy native mobile ones for each platform was out of the question, as was a costly Citrix virtual desktop infrastructure implementation. Goodwill had been using Microsoft Terminal Services and a traditional virtual private network (VPN), while some staff would carry files on Iron Key thumb drives.
As Goodwill prepared to make the leap to a true mobile workforce, Bromes knew these existing stop-gap mobile solutions wouldn’t work. For instance, Goodwill employees were being asked to use the VPN setting to connect to the network and fire up a remote desktop protocol (RDP) client to connect to the server in order to work in a virtual session. This two- or three-step process frustrates users.
Even worse, the IT staff had to troubleshoot VPN connections all the time.
“For some reason, RDP has connection issues,” Bromes says. “Deployment for VPN clients and troubleshooting connections can actually touch staff at several tiers, in order to resolve an issue. It has been a challenge for my staff to support.”
Given all these issues, Bromes decided to go with Splashtop, a remote desktop solution with roots in the consumer market, coupled with mobile device and application management software from Airwatch. Now Goodwill employees only need to tap on the Splashtop mobile app to connect to the server and get access to homegrown and legacy apps.
Affordability was a decisive factor, especially when comparing Splashtop prices to those of fully featured enterprise solutions. “We’re probably one-fifth the cost of Citrix,” says Splashtop CEO Mark Lee.
Splashtop Helps Goodwill Use Mobile Versions of Native Apps
The big problem with Windows-based desktop apps being rendered virtually on a mobile device is usability—and Splashtop suffered from this, too. Desktop apps don’t play well in a mobile touch environment with smallish screens, although Splashtop has mapped touch gestures to the keyboard and mouse.
Bromes says Splashtop at first would present a grainy, unreadable Word document, especially when there was a poor connection (although Bromes is quick to point out that Splashtop connections are much more consistent than the previous RDP). But Splashtop’s newest version has a button for sharpening images. Splashtop also works on multiple platforms.
The remote virtual desktop model is proving to be a good way for CIOs to tackle mobility. It can be much cheaper than turning desktop apps into native mobile ones—and with fewer headaches. Bromes says his homegrown apps are set up to work with various local, state and federal contracts. It would take four to five months to convert one of these apps to a native Android app.
As it turns out, Splashtop scales much better and more cheaply, and for the most part, employees are happy with it, Bromes says. Then again, native apps are a big part of the mobile culture that values simplicity. Are Goodwill executives asking for native apps?
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.