Enterprise smartphone and tablet incursion to grow in 2012

Workers bringing their own devices to work was one of the biggest challenges IT departments faced in 2011… and in 2010… and in 2009 as well. And guess what? It's going to be one of the biggest challenges in 2012 too.

And now that the Kindle Fire has made Android tablets more popular, IT departments can only expect to see a wider array of new devices coming to work in the coming months. Forrester Research analyst Christian Kane says this wide variety of new devices is leading some companies to rethink how they manage mobility in the enterprise by managing access instead of devices.

“In general, there's a concept right now that you should start managing the user rather than managing the device,” he says. “So you should understand that workers can use one type of device at home and another type at work but you'll still give them access to the applications they need.”

What this means for users, says Kane, is that the company will let them bring any device they want to work but it won't take responsibility for repairing that device if it gets broken or replacing it if it gets lost. Rather, the job of the enterprise will be to provision access to certain applications that the user needs on their phone and to ensure that enterprise applications are effectively walled off from whatever other applications that users may download onto their own devices.

“Apps need to be controlled and monitored because they're the single biggest source for malware and security breaches,” says Dan Croft, the CEO of wireless administrative services provider Mission Critical Wireless. “I know there are all kinds of cool apps that people want to download. But once you download an app to a tablet you need to be confident that the app isn't going to be conducting activities that could hurt the company.”

There are a few ways that companies can get a handle on this, both of which will require some investment. The first way is for companies to build up their own private clouds to exclusively handle data used by enterprise apps. SAP CIO Oliver Bussmann says that private clouds will give companies the ability to effectively segregate sensitive data while still ensuring that workers have easy access to it on their mobile devices.

“A lot of companies are grappling with how to provide access to sharing for documents across all mobile and desktop platforms because there's a challenge right now if everything can be moved to a public cloud,” he says. “So you need to find a solution that provides that kind of functionality in your own private cloud. With mobile device management software, for instance, we now have the opportunity to block users from putting documents onto iCloud or other public clouds.”

The second solution for companies looking to get a handle on mobile applications is to simply build their own mobile app stores that workers can use to get all approved applications for company use. This can ensure that companies can preapprove popular apps for users and thus know exactly what apps have access to their corporate network. And as Croft notes, companies will want to keep their workers using their own app stores by offering a wide array of popular games and non-work apps so that you create a “user-friendly environment to have apps that can be fun and not just business apps.” In other words, companies should expect to support Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja on their company stores along with mission-critical productivity apps.

The last big way for companies to protect their data across multiple device types and platforms is by making sure the data itself knows where it does and doesn't belong. Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney says companies should consider using digital rights management (DRM) techniques to tag data so that it will automatically delete itself if it's sent to a place where it could be copied or stolen. So if a worker accidentally uploads a sensitive document onto iCloud instead of the company's private cloud, the document will automatically destroy itself as soon as it recognizes it's been placed in iCloud.

“You use DRM techniques to arm the data to know where it is and what to do when it's in someplace it doesn't belong,” Dulaney explains. “The data has to become smart, it has to say 'I'm in a room that doesn't look like normal office room and I'm going to delete myself.'”

The bottom line, though, is that companies will continue facing major challenges with workers bringing their own devices to work and it's likely to remain a hot topic for IT departments heading into 2013 as well. The good news, says Kane, is that companies are increasingly investing in the sorts of tools that will allow users to take more responsibility for managing their own devices, thus freeing up IT departments to work on more valuable tasks that don't involve babysitting users who leave their iPhones in bars late at night.

“Many companies are transitioning to bring-your-own-device programs that let users access enterprise app stores, that give them the responsibility of wiping their own devices when they get lost, and that let them interact with their coworkers in company-sanctioned forums to discuss the best apps to use,” he says. “It's become a shared responsibility and it has to be managed that way.

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