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IT Briefcase Exclusive Interview: The Business Benefits of Mobile Device Management with AirWatch

August 8, 2013 No Comments

In the interview below, Blake Brannon from AirWatch outlines ways in which organizations today can maximize their mobile capabilities to increase productivity and gain ROI by deploying mobile applications and enabling mobile access to content.

  • Q. What are the main IT challenges that you see emerging due to the increased abundance of mobile applications available today?

A. One of the main challenges with the increasing abundance of mobile applications is access control to cloud services. As more and more apps are being leveraged by businesses, those applications are talking to enterprise systems and those enterprise systems are moving to the cloud. The key challenge with IT today is that traditionally, access to those services has been controlled by the network, meaning they were hosted internally or on-premise. However, as those services have moved to the cloud, IT lost control over determining which user’s devices, applications and work stations can have access to corporate materials. It’s a huge concern as more mobile applications continue to move to cloud services. Email is a great example. With email moving to the cloud, how do you manage access control?

Essentially, IT is losing a bit of the traditional control that it used to have, since IT departments didn’t have to put in control at the application level – they could do everything through the network. It used to be that if I got on the network, I would have access to that service, assuming I had a username and password. Today, it’s different in the sense that that service is in the cloud. So I could be on a computer on vacation and still be able to connect. The question is, do I want to, and if I do, how do I do it securely and in a way that can be properly managed by my IT department?

  • Q. What advice can you offer to organizations trying to overcome the risk vs. compliance security issue that is arising with the evolution of BYOD in the workplace?

A. Most of BYOD is about enablement. There are security aspects that definitely come into play, but the balance between compliance versus enablement has to be kept in perspective. If you don’t enable an employee to do something very easily, they’re going to go out of their way to try to circumvent the process. An organization may come up with a very rigorous and secure solution that places lots of restrictions on employees; but if it’s not intuitive or usable, or if it doesn’t enable them to use the device for enterprise work, you really haven’t accomplished anything as an IT organization. Solutions must help employees be productive, so a healthy balance between managing risk, setting compliance standards and enabling the end user is crucial in BYOD.

  • Q. Have you noticed a shift from managing mobile devices to managing the data (content and applications) on devices?

A. Yes, absolutely. There’s been a shift over the past two to three years in the concepts and technologies that enable organizations to manage mobility and do so more effectively. Depending on the scenario, managing just the applications or data on a device is a concept that is definitely increasing in popularity, and there’s been growth in the technology that enables this management style, such as APIs at the OEM level. These are technologies that can be leveraged at more of an app level versus device level, enabling the industry to shift in terms of what is managed.

The overall end-to-end platform that AirWatch provides with our solution set allows businesses to manage at the device level or just the app or content level, and anywhere in between. An enterprise may want to manage just applications or just data but then also do lightweight device management. This goes back to the concept of enablement. Today, there is an enablement of technology that allows us to strike a balance between full device management and nothing at all. Maybe the best fit for an end user is app management plus two or three optional permissions that act as benefits for the end user. Employees want to have that balance of work and play on the device, all while still securing voicemail or protecting the device from being jailbroken at the operating system level.

  • Q. Do you feel that businesses can increase productivity and ROI through extending both enterprise applications and corporate content? Can you explain a little about why both are important?

A. Businesses can definitely benefit and gain ROI by deploying mobile applications and enabling mobile access to content. Sitting behind a desk to do work has become less and less common these days. My smartphone never leaves my side. I have heard that the average time to replace an employee’s lost phone is about two hours; someone replacing their driver’s license is four days. So investing in mobility tools – things that enable you to get to corporate content, to access corporate systems, to approve a purchase that was made, to approve an employee’s time off, to edit a document for a proposal that’s about to go out – result in increased employee productivity and a better end user experience. As such, there is an absolutely huge return on investment simply by enabling an employee with access to that information via a device, regardless of location.

Why are both mobile applications and content essential? Giving employees remote, mobile access to corporate content is essential – we’ve seen this time and time again with AirWatch customers. By enabling employees to access their content from anywhere, at any time, companies are giving them the tools they need to do their jobs more efficiently. We’ve seen a lot of customers’ sales employees benefit from our Secure Content Locker (SCL) for mobile content management, because instead of having to bring hard copies of portfolios, presentations and marketing materials to make a sale, they can easily access these things from their devices. Also, in terms of collaboration, mobile content management solutions like AirWatch’s SCL simplify the process of collaborative editing and sharing. You don’t have to reprint or resend a 15-page document every time someone makes a change or edit, because the updated version is already available on your device.

Enterprise applications are also growing at an astronomical rate. Sometimes, apps just give users access to their corporate content in a secure container – in these instances, mobile content and mobile application management become one in the same. However, most enterprise apps offer additional functionality to employees, and many provide a secure and intuitive way for employees to access traditional desktop programs like SharePoint or internal tracking systems. Applications offer an additional way for companies to integrate their mobile fleet with existing IT systems that were traditionally only available on a desktop computer.

  • Q. How do you see cloud computing and mobile growing and influencing the IT space together?

A. I think it goes back to the adoption of mobile. Right now, everything is mobile, and the amount of devices and the amount of data that’s going to those devices continues to increase, putting a huge burden on IT. As a result, more services are being shifted into the cloud, so that traffic doesn’t have to be hosted by the IT network and maintained internally. Cloud computing is so popular because it outsources the network bandwidth that’s required for connection by all of the devices. It’s just much easier to deploy all of that data as a cloud service as opposed to trying to host it all on premise.

A second trend is specifically emerging between IT and the enterprise. Once enterprise application stores became more popular, more developers realized that they could sell to enterprises too. Before, you had to be very large organization that could build enterprise software to sell to other enterprises. Today, that’s not the case. A five person development shop is just as visible as a thousand person development shop that’s building some complex system. That smaller company is most likely leveraging a cloud service that can host and process large amounts of information for the platform being built, simply because they don’t have the money or manpower to build their own data centers and run their own networks. So in a way, the proliferation of enterprise apps and app stores has leveled the playing field for mobile developers. Mobile services and apps are continuing to grow in number and depend wholeheartedly on congruently expanding cloud computing services.

  • Q. As the BYOD debate continues, what do you feel are the biggest business benefits that Mobile Device Management brings to the table?

A. There are several important business benefits – increased security of the device (for BYOD – it’s app management only), enablement of additional functionality and features, integration with OEM-specific APIs and policies, and really, you could even argue that MDM provides increased usability by the end user for things that are device specific, like WiFi and VPN access at the device level. From an employee standpoint, a BYOD program that provides enterprise wipes could be a nice value add for the employee as well. When someone loses their phone, they’d like to wipe the whole device, not just the corporate apps. No one wants their Facebook, Twitter, voicemails or personal mail account to be accessible on a lost device. Yes, there are personal services available that do that, but MDM provides a platform that protects both the employee and the enterprise.

And from an ROI standpoint, MDM is worth it. It really comes down to an understanding of the additional capabilities available when you integrate with MDM. Some great examples are the native mail experience or native APIs or native containerization.  These features are enabled as part of MDM policies and configurations, much preferable to when everything is only available in a separate app. Technically, individual apps work from a security standpoint, but they do not necessarily net to a great user experience. It goes back to enablement and the user experience – if an enterprise creates a very secure, locked down typed of architecture, nobody wants to use it because it’s difficult to navigate, and the company really won’t be able to produce any significant ROI.

Blake Brannon

Blake Brannon is a senior research engineer at AirWatch®, the global leader and innovator in mobile device security and the largest Enterprise Mobile Management (EMM) provider. In this role, Brannon is responsible for guiding overall product strategy in order to enhance the technical component of the AirWatch EMM suite. He oversees a large team of sales engineers that designs customized scenarios on a client-by-client basis to drive sales and improve the customer experience. Brannon has worked with AirWatch’s biggest clients, fine-tuning security configurations, product design and the integration of enterprise data.

Prior to AirWatch, Brannon worked as a research engineer at Georgia Tech while receiving his degrees. He served in the Broadband Wireless Networking Laboratory and the Smart Antenna Research Laboratory, focusing on wireless mobile computing and computer security.

Brannon received a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering and a Master of Science in electrical and computer engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.

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