For a while it seemed that Google was so busy getting geeky with glasses and driverless cars that it was blind to the big opportunity directly in front of it — bringing enterprise level security to the nearly 1 billion Android mobile devices that, in some way or another, are used on the job or for work purposes every day.

“For many, these phones have become essential tools to help us complete important work tasks like checking email, editing documents, reviewing sales pipelines and approving deals,” said Rajen Sheth, director of product management, Android and Chrome for Work at Google.

“But for the majority of workers, smartphones and tablets are underutilized in the workplace,” he added, noting that the business and innovation potential on these devices is for the most part, untapped.

And though Google initially spoke about separating work data and personal data on mobile devices at its I/O Conference last June, it didn’t make Android for Work available to the masses until now.

What Took So Long?

Android devices are almost inherently less secure that their iOS counterparts, so Google had to build a new platform and collaborate with partners to make sure that everything worked. There was also some engineering to do so that Android phones met the demands of the worker and the company that writes his paycheck.

Enterprises want to control and protect the data that you access, accumulate and use on the job —ranging from company email and files stored in cloud repositories to data that might live in business applications such as SAP.

Workers don’t want their employers in their business — reading their texts, personal email, seeing what sites they frequent and videos they watch. So a clear, impenetrable separation was a must.

As a result enhanced security was required. It builds on the native multi-user support that’s already present on most phones. This makes it possible for IT to confidently add company approved apps to workers’ mobile devices and to rest assured knowing that the data inside those apps will be secure. Employees, on the other hand, can relax knowing that their bosses can’t access their personal data because it’s kept safe behind their personal profiles.

What’s inside?

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Sheth said that Android for Work offers four primary components:

  1. Work profiles – Building on the default encryption, enhanced SELinux security enforcement and multi-user support in Android 5.0, Lollipop creates a dedicated work profile that isolates and protects work data. IT can deploy approved work apps right alongside their users' personal apps knowing their sensitive data remains secured. People can use their personal apps knowing their employer only manages work data and won’t erase or view their personal content.
  2. Android for Work app – For devices running Ice Cream Sandwich through Kitkat, or that don’t run work profiles natively, there’s the Android for Work app. The app, which delivers secure mail, calendar, contacts, documents, browsing and access to approved work apps can be completely managed by IT.
  3. Google Play for Work – Google Play for Work allows businesses to securely deploy and manage apps across all users running Android for Work, simplifying the process of distributing apps to employees and ensuring that IT approves every deployed app.
  4. Built-in productivity tools – For everyday business tasks, there’s a suite of business apps for email, contacts and calendar, which supports both Exchange and Notes and provides document editing capabilities for documents, spreadsheets and presentations. .

Creating an Ecosystem

Unlike Apple, which manufactures its own mobile devices, Android lives on many smartphones and tablets that are made by a variety of vendors as diverse as Dell, HP, htc, Lenovo. Motorola, Samsung, SONY … you get the idea. Various models of these devices run different releases ranging from Ice Cream Sandwich to KitKat to Lollipop.

And in a BYOD arrangement, it’s the employee who calls the shots on which phone or tablet he uses, how often he will update and upgrade his phone and so on. This raises questions for app compatibility as well.

This could be a real headache for IT, but to prevent that, Google has created an Android for Work partnership program to bring consistent management, secure business applications and innovative devices to the enterprises.

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There’s little doubt that corporate IT managers and company data managers are breathing a sigh of relief today, realizing that they might soon have a little more control of the information they are assigned to protect.