Many businesses are now getting to grips with the consumerisation trend that has seen IT teams tasked with managing employee-owned or corporate-provisioned smartphone and tablets. However, the real benefits of a mobility strategy will be seen only once businesses allow employees to use these devices to access enterprise apps - an area where many businesses are still falling short.
"At the moment we see that the real use case for mobility is around email. But, mobile applications will be the next thing that will drive business transformation and increase productivity," said Ovum senior analyst Richard Absalom, speaking at the firm's Mobile First 2014 event in London.
"This creates a problem for the enterprise. There are so many apps out there and so much choice - so how do you manage that? People want to use a lot of these applications so people want to use these applications, so how do we give them the right applications to do their job?"
Mobile-first business benefits
There are a number of businesses that have shown the possibilities of a 'mobile-first' approach to business, with deployment of tablets and smartphones to run enterprise applications. This could be through a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy, or through rollout of corporate-provisioned hardware.
For example, Delta Airlines has provided Nokia Lumia smartphones to 19,000 flight attendants and Microsoft Surface 2 tablets to 11,000 pilots. This has provided flight crews with real-time access to essential tools and up-to-date flight-related resources, including key charts, reference documents and checklists, while also saving the airline $13 million a year in fuel and associated costs.
However, the reality for most businesses is that, although many have a mobility or BYOD strategy in place, the focus has been on locking down devices in the face of the threat of data loss and security risks. This has involved many businesses deploying mobile device management (MDM) tools that offer tight control of a full device, benefitting a number of vendors in the space such as Airwatch, MobileIron and Good.
According to Absalom, this is beginning to change and businesses are attempting to get more value from mobile devices by taking a less 'defensive' approach to security management.
MDM and MAM
Absalom said that the use of mobile application management (MAM) tools is increasing in popularity among enterprises, and offers a way to provision apps to employee-owned devices with control on a more granular level.
Although both approaches have their benefits, and are increasingly integrated by vendors, MAM is not as intrusive, making it more attractive to end users as it can more easily distinguish between personal and work applications. This creates flexibility and means that users will not be tempted to circumvent a company's secure network on a second device to access apps of their choice.
Luisa Childs-Brown, head of mobile strategy at Royal Mail, said that there is still a disparity in terms of what businesses can offer compared to what employees can access on their personal devices.
"There is no doubt that there is a gap between the services that you have at home and the services you have in corporate environment. There are definite camps that are developing - you have Apple camps, BlackBerry camps, Android camps," said Childs-Brown.
"From an organisational perspective, the complexity in terms of how to support and manage all of these devices is huge. A lot of individuals don't realise this, they think they can just walk in and connect to the network and carry on."
The danger of shadow IT should be a major consideration for businesses. Just as employees wanted to bring their devices to work, they are also keen to access cloud-based applications such as Dropbox, Twitter and Skype in the workplace.
According to an Ovum survey, around half of employees who use an enterprise social network are using one which was not deployed by their business.
Andrew Broadbent, IT director at charity Anthony Nolan Trust, said the introduction of younger staff into the workplace is helping to drive expectations about enterprise applications. He suggested that businesses should accept that employees will want to use their own apps, and should adapt accordingly.
"We want to provide an environment staff like working in, and often that means enabling them to do what they like, because frankly they are going to do it anyway," he said.
"You can put as many controls in place as you like, and you can say 'I can provide that using SharePoint, come back in three months and I will have delivered it'. But by the time I would have delivered it they would already be using Dropbox or Yammer or something like that."
Ovum's Absalom says that IT teams should take a proactive approach to deciding which applications should be corporately approved or added to an internal app store.
"If people don't have the right services then they will source them through BYOD or their line manager might go out and procure them and come up with their own internal policies - which is a nightmare for IT departments to manage," he says.
"IT departments need to make sure that employees can use the applications that they need, to actually go out and work with them and find out from the lines of business what they need."
This story, "Enterprises Must Focus on Application Management to Enable 'Mobile-First' Business" was originally published by Computerworld UK.