Perhaps nothing in information technology offers a richer mix of expectation and disillusionment than the mobile enterprise. It's become like the lover who keeps promising a long-term relationship but never commits.
Since workers became enamored with smartphones eight years ago, it has seemed obvious those devices will one day connect with the applications and data within the company's fire-walled network. And that will happen. It just didn't happen in 2014.
Mobile devices and the enterprise have yet to form a happy marriage. Despite significant advances this year, hurdles remain before the mobile enterprise can achieve the kind of speed, safety and productivity that office workers have come to expect from their network.
"Overall, I'm a little disappointed with how far mobile has come," said Chris Hazelton, research director for enterprise mobile at 451 Research. "I think it has come a ways in the past year. There've been some interesting trends and things that have happened. But I'd like to see more, and I expect to see more."
What drove the mobile enterprise more than any one area this year was the confluence of several technologies: cloud computing engines, analytics, Software-as-a-Service, app development and tablets. End-user demand is driving that convergence -- there's a market waiting. Juniper Research estimates 1 billion workers will have mobile access to the enterprise by 2018.
Hazelton said research shows "very strong agreement" among employees that they believe mobile devices will allow them to get more done and "for bettter or worse" work beyond regular office hours. "But in the end, we still see a strong bias and interest in employee surveys for laptops and desktop [computers] for most work," he said in an interview with CMSWire.
CIOs, meanwhile, seem to be coming around slowly to the the notion that they can offer greater access to enterprise apps and data without sacrificing security.
Certainly, there is slow, but steady progress. Scores of companies now compete to enhance device management, create better apps, manage those apps, provide cloud-based services, improve connectivity and create an end-user experience that will enhance productivity while pleasing employees.
Here are a few areas where this year saw some progress.
If there is a first commandment of enterprise computing, it is: Thou shalt protect thy network from intrusion. That is a hard enough job for a CIO overseeing an on-premise network where every device and all the software is carefully selected and monitored. It gets extremely difficult when employees are using many different devices with different operating systems and software to access the network.
When the BYOD movement began, security emerged as the top concern of CIOs everywhere. Many companies formed policies to bar employees from using their mobile devices to access email, much less client lists, financial data, HR files or any of the other crown jewels inside the firewall. That eased somewhat when CIOs realized they were losing support of C-level execs who expected their newest gadgets to connect to the company's network.
In 2014, companies often offered compromises -- allowing workers into one part of the network for email or shared folders, but not the most sensitive areas. As they find new ways to secure data on the network, CIOs are likely to ease restrictions further.
A related concern to security is mobile device management (MDM), which is basically the art of controlling the interaction of mobile workers with the network.
Only about 25 percent of US companies currently use MDM, according to Hazelton, who expects that figure to grow only by the single digits through 2018. Additionally, some companies are turning to mobile application management (MAM) instead as a means to control the data rather than the device.
Traditionally, MDM involved integrating and maintaining a mobile network, but now analytics is coming into play. In November, IBM introduced a cloud-based analytics tool that reflects the performance of the mobile infrastructure and its varied applications. Without that, companies face slower adoption and use of business apps, resulting in lower productivity, according to Linda Lyding, director of IBM's MobileFirst offerings.
A month before Big Blue's move, Microsoft announced plans for MDM tools that will let companies manage security policies, erase data from Office 365 while leaving personal data intact, give users access to calendars and documents in Office 365 and apply security policies onto BYOD devices linked to Office 365. The new products will be out in early 2015.
Hazelton noted that one of the year's highpoints in MDM -- the announcement of a multimillion-dollar, multi-vendor project for the US Department of Defense -- later became one of the year's greatest disappointments when the deal "floundered." The analyst said he still hasn't seen a product delivered on that contract.
Perhaps the greatest area of progress this year was in app development. In past years, companies typically developed apps as separate projects, then adapted them to different devices and integrated them into a mobile network.
This year saw the emergence of several impressive Mobile App Development Platforms (MADP) that create mobile apps for most devices on the fly. Gartner highighted some of them in its Magic Quadrant report in September.
"The MADP enables an enterprise to design, develop, deploy, distribute and manage a portfolio of mobile applications running on a range of devices and addressing the requirements of diverse use cases, including external-facing and internal-facing scenarios," the firm explained.
Gartner called Adobe's PhoneGap the "de facto industry standard." The software company put the Adobe Experience Manager in the core of its MADP in a way that facilitates development of both utility and content-centric applications.
In addition to Adobe, Gartner cited SAP, IBM, Kony, Appcelerator and Pegasystems as leaders, followed by Salesforce and MicroStrategy.
If the current trends hold, more CIOs will find ways in the next few years to provide secure services to roving employees through SaaS-based applications and improved MDM/MAM. But when will the mobile enterprise really deliver the kind of service workers have come to expect on the desktop?
By 2016, Hazelton said he expects to see companies start moving from a "mobile first" approach with dedicated apps for different devices to an enterprise computing model that is agnostic to whether the user is on a desktop or some type of mobile device.
By 2017, he said workers may finally start seeing the type of mobile enterprise they've wanted since 2008, the year when business users started shifting from Blackberrys to iPhones. "I think by 10 years from 2008," he said, "we have to have figured this out."
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