Why mobile will determine the future of IT

The increased use of mobile devices in the enterprise means IT must pay close attention to security and assess the risks. Mobile device management can help.

Why mobile will determine the future of IT
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From mobile hardware breakthroughs to the explosion of cloud services and leaps in mobile and wireless network speeds, many factors have contributed to the rise of smartphones and mobile devices as prominent tools in the office and workplace.

More and more companies are now adopting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategies and issue tablets and smartphones to their employees to access company email and digital resources. According to analytics firm IDC, 90 percent of companies support BYOD policies. Further, Flurry Analytics, the firm that monitors mobile app usage and statistics, says business app usage had a 30 percent year-over-year growth in 2016. And every year, more enterprise applications offer mobile app versions or become mobile friendly.

+ Also on Network World: How to implement an effective BYOD policy +

The benefits of a mobile work environment are many, including connectivity and productivity in areas where PCs and laptops could not have been carried. Examples include healthcare, transportation, hospitality and travel, where mobility is an inherent part of business and strong handheld devices are becoming an inseparable part of organizational workflow.

“Access to company data in many organizations like healthcare is getting more widespread to different departments,” says Paul Palojärvi, vice president of sales at Miradore, an IT management company specialized in BYOD. “Earlier these used to have access only through a shared PC. Today they have personal devices (phones, tablets) with access to confidential patient information.”

Mobile device management (MDM) needed

However, mobile also introduces, among others, security and regulatory drawbacks, tradeoffs and challenges. Organizations and firms need to acknowledge and overcome these hurdles if they are to fully harness the power of this rising trend.

“Regulations like HIPAA set requirements for organizations that handle personal and patient data,” Palojärvi says. “In order to fulfill the requirements, a MDM solution is needed.”

MDM are toolsets and platforms that enable enterprises and organizations to integrate, manage and secure mobile devices in corporate networks. Through MDM, administrators are able to set rules or control security and application settings on all mobile devices on a company’s network. In many ways, MDM is like Active Directory for mobile devices.

A company without an MDM solution will have a hard time providing reliable security for its critical assets.

"One of the main drawbacks of a company not utilizing MDM is that the IT manager won’t know which employees have a mobile device with access to company data and resources,” says Palojärvi. “They also won’t know which employee is using what device or which platform. This creates security issues, as there is no proper inventory of devices with sensitive company information.”

Scattered and uncontrolled access can give rise to insider threats, such as information leaks and data theft. Insider threats are the largest contributing factor to security incidents in organizations. And BYOD environments only exacerbate the situation by creating new attack vectors into an organization’s infrastructure.

Meanwhile, a powerful MDM solution can help administrators monitor and protect network and data access across all corporate- and personally owned devices. It can also prevent mishaps, such as data on a lost or stolen device falling into the wrong hands, or prevent the installation of malicious apps that can steal corporate data through a user device. And if an employee leaves a company without prior notice, the administrator can wipe their device from sensitive information remotely and revoke their access to company resources.

Also, by providing a centralized way to process the installation, updates or removal of applications on devices, MDMs save the huge amount of time it would take to do so manually. The added level of control also helps enterprises make sure they’re compliant with industry regulations at all levels.

Challenges of implementing MDM solutions

However, implementing MDM solutions across a diverse range of devices has its own challenges. While iOS devices have a more unified production and supply chain, the same can’t be said for the Android family, which has the lion’s share of mobile devices across the world.

"iOS is fully controlled by Apple and has extensive management capabilities available for MDM solution providers,” says Palojärvi. “The Android OS is provided by Google, but the hardware is provided by many different manufacturers. The Android platform has been lacking many basic remote management functions necessary for IT departments to manage these efficiently.”

This very reason has led manufacturers and software companies to create inclusive MDM and enterprise-level solutions for Android devices.

An example is Samsung’s KNOX technology, a suite of hardware and software security integrations into the manufacturer’s Android devices and operating system, including support for separation of work and personal data, and a set of MDM APIs. KNOX also supports management features that enable administrators to remotely monitor and vet a device’s security.

While KNOX technology is exclusive to Samsung devices, it can be integrated with other technologies, such as Google’s Android, for work.

Google also released a manufacturer-independent solution in 2016 called Android Enterprise, which provides a platform for securing personal and company data, as well as core management capabilities.

Miradore, one of the first companies to support the new Android Enterprise concept, also offers an MDM and Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solution that supports both platforms with extensive management capabilities available.

Mobile is the future of business, which means it will also constitute a considerable portion of IT efforts in all companies. Enterprises should assess the risks and potentials and work around the hurdles and challenges to bring the full power of mobility to their organizations.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

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