Overwhelmed by iPhone and Android? Take the initiative, experts say

Overwhelmed by iPhone and Android? Take the initiative, experts say

"If you deploy your own app it has to have awesome capabilities"

It used to be that managing your company's mobility boiled down to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES).

Well, those days are most certainly over due to both the decline of Research in Motion and the rise of more consumer-oriented devices making their way to the enterprise. So what's an IT department besieged with iPhones and Android devices to do? According to Dan Croft, the CEO of enterprise mobility management service provider Mission Critical Wireless, many companies are creating "mobile IT teams" within their IT departments to focus exclusively on the challenges of modern mobile device management.

BACKGROUND: Enterprise smartphone and tablet incursion to grow in 2012

SLIDESHOW: Eight essential Android security apps

"It used to be there was one guy who was operating the BlackBerry Enterprise Server but now we're starting to see all kinds of different devices," says Croft. "We're seeing the rapid adoption of mobile device management platforms that are allowing companies to embrace mobility as part of the core offerings it's allowing to its users."

Ojas Rege, the vice president of product at mobile device management software vendor MobileIron, says that from a pragmatic standpoint this means that IT workers find that they'll have to develop new knowledge and skills that they haven't needed in traditional IT jobs, such as understanding mobile applications, learning multiple mobile operating systems and, perhaps most crucially, understanding their users' expectations for what enterprise mobile will give to them. The reason this is so important, says Rege, is that if IT departments don't manage and understand user expectations then users are more likely to take matters into their own hands.

"It's common now to have situation where you'll have a VP of sales say, 'I've got to have iPads for all my salespeople and I need that right away and if you don't give it to me I'll do it myself,'" says Rege. "There are still companies out there where the central IT team is holding up their hands on this and in those cases users are just going to go around them and build up applications in insecure and unsupported ways."

The Houston Texans football franchise, for one, has tried to stay ahead of the curve and has been very aggressive in adopting iOS and Android devices, to the point where the organization is actually planning to phase out its support for BlackBerry devices and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Jeff Schmitz, the director of information technology for the Texans, says there's no real way for companies to prepare themselves for the different types of mobile devices on the market right now other than diving right in and getting to know the devices on a one-by-one basis. Similarly, he says that companies need to be open with their users about the kinds of applications they'll let them download onto their devices and publishing clear guidelines for what users can and can't have on their phones or tablets.

"At this point we're still taking on apps from a monitoring standpoint and we're not enforcing what people can or can't download until we find an issue with it," he says. "So we publish a list of recommended applications or exclude certain items from running on devices so if you know an app is malicious, you can deny it so your users can't even launch it."

Rege expresses a similar view and says that transparency on IT's end can save a lot of headaches from users who have expectations that they'll be able to access everything in the enterprise that they currently get in the consumer world. Rege says that companies should also consider developing their own enterprise app store that gives users a wide variety of popular apps to choose from but that is still far more exclusive than standard app stores where users are exposed to all sorts of malicious applications. He also says that many companies are trying to create their own homemade apps for their users, but he cautions that companies should really make sure their app is top-notch before deploying it out to their workforce.

"In mobile, a user's expectation is set by what's in the consumer world," he says. "If you deploy your own app it has to have awesome capabilities and that's something that traditional IT has not been that strong at."

The bottom line, says Croft, is that being assertive in letting users expand the range of devices they can use for work will in the long run benefit IT departments even though it might initially cause some headaches and force departments to learn skills that haven't traditionally been part of their repertoire.

"We encourage our clients to recognize that users are going to bring devices in to manage both their personal and business requirements and you need to be able to support that," he says. "And if you don't then it gives rogue users the opportunity to found workarounds."

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

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