A Look Back Broken Promises of the Mobile Enterprise
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A Look Back: Broken Promises of the Mobile Enterprise

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Tom Murphy avatar

Perhaps nothing in information technology offers a richer mix of expectationand disillusionment than the mobile enterprise. It's become like the lover whokeeps promising a long-term relationship but never commits.

Since workers became enamored with smartphones eight years ago, it has seemed obvious thosedevices will one day connect with the applications and data within the company'sfire-walled network. And that will happen. It just didn't happen in 2014.

Mobile devices and the enterprisehave yetto form a happy marriage. Despite significant advances this year, hurdles remain before the mobile enterprise canachieve the kind of speed, safety and productivity that office workers havecome to expect from their network.

Expecting More

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"Overall, I'm a little disappointed with how far mobile hascome," said ChrisHazelton, research director for enterprise mobile at 451Research. "I think it has come a ways in the past year. There've been someinteresting trends and things that have happened. But I'd like to see more, andI expect to see more."

What drove the mobile enterprise more than any one area this year wasthe confluence of several technologies: cloudcomputing engines, analytics, Software-as-a-Service, app development andtablets. End-user demand is driving that convergence -- there's a marketwaiting. JuniperResearch estimates 1 billion workers will have mobile access to theenterprise by 2018. 

Hazelton said research shows "very strongagreement" among employees that they believe mobile devices will allow themto get more done and "for bettter or worse" workbeyond regular office hours. "But in the end, we still see a strong bias and interest in employeesurveys for laptops and desktop [computers] for most work," he said in aninterview with CMSWire.

Coming Around

CIOs, meanwhile, seem to be coming around slowly to the the notion that theycan offer greater access to enterprise apps and data without sacrificingsecurity. 

Certainly, there is slow, but steady progress. Scores of companies now compete to enhance device management, createbetter apps, manage those apps, provide cloud-based services, improve connectivity andcreate an end-user experience that will enhance productivity while pleasing employees.

Here are a few areas where this year saw some progress.

Security 

If there is a first commandment of enterprise computing, it is: Thou shalt protect thy network from intrusion. That is a hard enough job fora CIO overseeing an on-premise network where every device and all the softwareis carefully selected and monitored. It gets extremely difficult when employeesare using many different devices with different operating systems and softwareto access the network.

When the BYOD movement began, security emerged as the top concern of CIOseverywhere. Many companies formed policies to bar employees from using theirmobile devices to access email, much less client lists, financial data, HR filesor any of the other crown jewels inside the firewall. That eased somewhat when CIOs realized they were losing support of C-levelexecs who expected their newest gadgets to connect to the company's network.

In 2014, companiesoften offered compromises -- allowing workers into one part of the networkfor email or shared folders, but not the most sensitive areas. As they find new ways tosecure data on the network, CIOs are likely to ease restrictions further.

Management

A related concern to security is mobile device management (MDM), which isbasically the art of controlling the interaction of mobile workers with thenetwork. 

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.

Learning Opportunities

A month before Big Blue's move, Microsoftannounced plans for MDM tools that will let companies manage securitypolicies, erase data from Office 365 while leaving personal dataintact, give users access to calendars and documents in Office 365 and applysecurity policies onto BYOD devices linked to Office 365. The newproducts will be out in early 2015.

Hazelton noted that one of the year's highpoints in MDM -- the announcementof a multimillion-dollar, multi-vendor project for the US Department ofDefense -- later became one of the year's greatest disappointments when the deal "floundered." The analyst said he still hasn't seen aproduct delivered on that contract.

App Development

Perhaps the greatest area of progress this year was in app development. In past years, companiestypically developed apps asseparate projects, then adapted them to different devices and integrated theminto a mobile network.

This year saw the emergence of several impressive Mobile App DevelopmentPlatforms (MADP) that create mobile apps for most devices on the fly. Gartnerhighighted 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 away that facilitates development of both utility and content-centricapplications. 

In addition to Adobe, Gartner cited SAP, IBM, Kony, Appcelerator andPegasystems as leaders, followed by Salesforce and MicroStrategy.

Looking Ahead

If the current trends hold, more CIOs will find ways in the next few years toprovide secure services to roving employees through SaaS-based applications andimproved MDM/MAM. But when will the mobile enterprise really deliver the kind ofservice 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 toan enterprise computing model that is agnostic to whether the user is on adesktop or some type of mobile device.

By 2017, he said workers may finally start seeing the type of mobileenterprise they've wanted since 2008, the year when business users startedshifting from Blackberrys to iPhones. "I think by 10 years from 2008," he said, "we have to havefigured this out."

Title image by ViewApart / Shutterstock