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Cambridgeshire county council is to launch a bring your own device (BYOD) pilot, which will allow 50 employees to access corporate resources on their own gadgets.

The local authority has restricted the BYOD trial to Android and Apple products to give its staff an alternative to GCSx compliant BlackBerrys. According to the council, the aim is to replicate what a person can currently access if they were issued with a BlackBerry.

"We've had a lot of people coming to us to saying, 'I know you do corporate BlackBerrys, but why can't I use my own device?' And sometimes people have a considerably better device like iPhones and iPads, for example, and we really had no answer," said Alan Shields, project lead for the pilot.

"It started as a slow trickle and then more and more people were saying the same thing, so we decided to be a bit proactive and look at the market and see what sort of products were available," he told Guardian Government Computing.

The council settled on CESG accredited software firm Excitor and its dynamic mobile exchange (DME) suite of applications. The software creates a secure sandbox on a user's device that can be controlled by the local authority without interfering with personal data held on the device.

"There's an application you can download from an app stores or similar services and that creates a sandbox environment within their phone, which is totally separate from the everyday functions of their device. They can access their emails, look at their calendar using applications within that sandbox, so they don't use the generic applications that come with the device," Shields said.

The sandbox software allows employees to make a distinction between personal data and corporate items, and allows the information to sit securely within the device, meaning users can't download an email attachment and then save it onto the memory of their phone. "It must stay within that sandbox," Shields added.

If a person's device is lost or stolen, the council has the ability to wipe all of the information contained in the sandbox without touching the personal data.

The scheme is being delivered as part of the LGSS partnership between Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire county councils, but is only being piloted by Cambridgeshire staff at the moment. The council hopes to have as hands-off an approach as possible to the pilot. While it will give staff a training guide in how to configure the application, after that it wants participants to be able to use the technology themselves.

Shields said that the council envisages savings from a rollout: "It will either ramp down the number of corporate Blackberrys or ultimately replace them. That's a decision we've got to make further down the line. If someone's using their own device, obviously we don't need to buy them a device, so that's a simple cost saving," he said.

While this would need a shift from the council's corporate BlackBerry stance, Shields said the council was "just taking tiny steps at the moment".

The four week pilot will finish at the end of April, and by the third week Cambridgeshire expects to have a good idea of whether the rollout will be extended and if it will renew its DME licence - a decision that will come down to employees' reaction to the BYOD scheme. If permanently implemented, individual departments would have to pay a charge to cover the running costs of the system.

There may also be potential for the scheme to be extended to allow staff to have access to additional resources if the pilot is successful.

"Excitor do clients for other devices - this is probably where we'll go next if the pilot is successful. They are developing a Windows Phone 7 client, but that's still in the future," shields added.

A report released by Socitm, the association for public sector ICT professionals, in January said that local government organisations had become more receptive to the idea of staff using their own technology to undertake business tasks.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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