Enterprise mobility these days is anything but business as usual. IT departments are increasingly supporting smartphones and tablets. Much to the chagrin of CIOs and IT departments, business users are discovering that their personal devices can run common applications purchased at consumer-facing app stores that are even more sophisticated, yet easier to use, than the ones their company endorses. Add to that the power of moving enterprise to the cloud and you have the perfect storm for the new face of business computing.
The popular catch phrase for this changing landscape is “the consumerization of the enterprise.” While probably inevitable, this new paradigm is forcing CIOs to address and secure an entirely new set of devices and applications. Let’s be honest, when the CEO of a Fortune 500 company is hounding you to support his new Motorola Xoom, do you have any choice? Judging by what’s happening to the industry right now, the answer to that question is a resounding “No.”
Ahmed Datoo, chief marketing officer for Zenprise, a company that provides device management solutions for big companies like Comcast and Sony Pictures, acknowledges the trend towards bringing consumer devices onto the company’s network, which he sees as a good thing so long as security is managed in the right way.
“Any good security solution is about providing multiple layers of security,” Datoo says, adding that an always-on solution is first and foremost on the IT department’s list of concerns. “If that solution doesn’t have high availability or if it goes down… you have a huge hole in your security there.”
Datoo bemoans the current thinking of other companies on security, which he views as generally narrow. “Some of these other companies don’t have high availability, so when their security goes, you as a company are in grave danger,” he says.
Datoo says moving device management, as well as other services to the cloud, is the next step in the industry’s evolution, and he’s probably right. A May 2011 report from WaveLength Market Analytics and Winn Technology Group showed that 58 percent of medium and large enterprises are already using or planning to use the cloud.
Datoo says that in the past, IT departments have been slow to make the move to the cloud, preferring the existing on-premise firewall model.
“That resistance is definitely breaking down, and I think we have SalesForce to thank for that. They’re holding customer data out in the cloud. That’s the bread and butter of business right there,” Datoo says.
Zenprise is increasingly seeing its customers deploy in the cloud, in many cases employing a public/private hybrid. This allows companies to provision devices so that if a user downloads a malicious app, the company’s backend system on the private cloud will immediately recognize the app and lock that user from gaining access.
Add to that the ability to leverage a cloud provider’s existing architecture, enabling a company to scale from 200 to 2,000 devices overnight, and the cloud becomes an even more attractive option, Datoo says.
The iPhone Exec
Jack Chawla, senior director of technology marketing of mobile business with SAP, one of the largest cloud service providers in the world, says consumer devices and applications have the jump on existing enterprise solutions.
Chawla describes an environment where consumers are looking at the $1.99 spreadsheet app they just download from the App Store and it’s actually better than the one being offered by their company.
“That’s kind of a trend that’s happening in the industry. The workers generally get better technology on the consumer side than the on the business side,” Chawla says, adding that it’s “becoming very challenging for the IT CIO to keep up with what their employees are doing on the consumer side.”
Companies are getting the message about mobile apps and their efficacy in improving not just productivity but also customer satisfaction. According to a survey of IT decision-makers by Forrester Research, around 75 percent of organizations deploy mobile applications to increase worker productivity, and overall improved customer satisfaction is an important driver of mobilizing applications for 42 percent of firms.
Chawla makes a distinction between deeply integrated apps, like CRM systems and others that tackle a single task. He says it’s those simple apps that just do one thing really well that employees are downloading from the consumer app stores and then using for work (i.e. order notification, expense reports, tracking, etc.). SAP has taken notice of that trend.
“We just released 19 applications, each does one task really well. If you kind of dig deeper, what we are doing is following the consumer mobile model,” he says.
SAP will offer these applications via its existing on-premise, cloud-based and hybrid platform offerings. Chawla, too, champions the cloud as a way of making it easier for IT departments to support multiple device types.
Chawla says cloud-based applications, which can be developed on web-based protocols like HTML5, makes dealing with the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend easier, as they can then be deployed, secured and managed regardless of what platform a device runs.
Third-Party App Stores for Business Users
It’s probably fitting that business users should get their work apps from a different store than the one where they buy Angry Birds. After all, you probably wouldn’t buy those fancy dress shoes at the same place where you bought your Converse All Stars.
There are a number of companies that are looking to deliver an App Store experience to enterprise users by building and deploying internal app stores for companies. Sam Liu, vice president of marketing for Partnerpedia, a company that creates enterprise apps stores for its customers, says the trend towards consumerization is not just unavoidable, it’s necessary in some respects.
“IT departments are increasingly faced with the idea that consumers are purchasing these applications on their own,” Liu says, “and so IT is thinking about how they can use the app paradigm for their own uses.”
What’s interesting about this approach is that a company-owned and operated app store can be managed by the IT department. For instance, only certain employees might be given access to certain apps. Or if an employee who has been using her own device leaves the company, corporate apps can automatically be removed from the device.
On top of that, Partnerpeidica allows an IT department to create user groups, so that specific departments can have their own set of apps, or easily purchase more licenses at any time.
As business-centric as it may sound, the beauty of corporate app stores is that they look and feel very much like the app stores that employees are used to on the consumer side and therefore discourage workers from going elsewhere for their tools.
Even Apple Wears a Suit
If you’re still not sold on the inevitable overlap between the enterprise and consumer markets, you might want to know that even Apple is in on the deal. Just last year, the company initiated a program that allows IT departments to curate and manage their own corporate iOS application stores.
In the end, the shift towards consumerization of the enterprise turns the usual paradigm on its head; rather than high-tech being developed and deployed by big business and then being simplified and filtered down to the end user, consumer technologies are now transforming IT departments across the Fortune 500.
But should we really be surprised by this? After all, sweatshirt-wearing 27-year-old Mark Zuckerberg (estimated worth: $13.5 billion) is head of one of the most influential technology companies on the planet, and one of the oldest forms of enterprise – insurance companies – have their own Facebook pages these days.