Enterprise mobility is one of those IT phenomena in which everyone has an interest, from employees who want to use their own smartphones, to marketing folks who wish to deploy mobile apps to interact with customers, to the board which sees the potential for increased flexibility and productivity gains.
Most agree on the benefits, but how to achieve them is a source of real tension that can be characterised as a battle between 'hold on' and 'let go', with the enthusiastic let go camp pushing for greater autonomy in the deployment of mobile devices and apps and a more cautious hold on camp, which typically includes the IT department, seeking to retain central control.
The struggle between the two was the basis of the keynote address delivered by Computing chief reporter Graeme Burton during the Enterprise Mobility Summit 2014 today, which drew on an extensive research programme that included a quantitative survey of 230 IT decision makers.
Unfortunately for control freaks, control is slowly but surely being wrested away when it comes to devices connecting to the network.
While three years ago 80 per cent would have put themselves in the hold on camp, that number has dropped to 70 per cent today with the expectation that in three years' time only a half will describe their mobile policy in terms of holding on.
This loosening up is occurring across all sectors, even the most regulated such as finance and the public sector.
What's more, the trend is towards the most decentralised model - BYOD - which looks set to take over from the more centralised options. That at least is the opinion of the respondents.
Currently, providing a standard company device is the most popular of the four main strategies (others being BYOD, CYOD and COPE) but this option is seen as the most likely to decrease in the future in favour of BYOD.
The survey found a marked increase in mobile working compared with a year ago. Last year 25 per cent of respondents said that very few staff (less than five per cent) were mainly mobile. This year that number has dropped to 16 per cent. Furthermore only half now describe their organisation as consisting "primarily of office-based employees".
For many companies this process, driven by mobility, is a win-win situation, popular with employees, increasing effective working hours and possibly saving money on office space too.
"People actually don't like being unproductive. They don't like having to travel all the way into the office just to do something that they can do remotely, so there's a convenience and there's productivity..." said a CIO in the education sector.
If a 'let go' policy is being applied to devices, it stands to reason that a tighter 'hold on' policy must be applied to data and management.
In truth IT's control over devices is not diminishing, but it's moving from the hardware to software and services and this needs careful planning if it's to be done right, something that's not always appreciated by other departments.
The issue is finding the right balance between being secure yet providing flexibility for users and increasing productivity, customer focus and efficiency. Organisations have a number of different approaches to help them accomplish this. This figure gives a summary.
Security remains the number one issue when it comes to mobility and it's a matter of selecting the right combination of security solutions including MDM, MAM and encryption that minimise the risk while maximising the benefits.
Apps can be a major bone of contention, especially when it comes to the platforms they can run on. Do you stay safe and secure but relatively inflexible with BlackBerry (the 'hold on' choice), or do you open up to open platforms with their increased flexibility but decreased security focus?
Of course, it is possible to develop apps for a number of platforms or to use something like HTML 5, or a cross-platform development suite, but for simplicity a third of respondents were standardising on one or two platforms.
Asked about which mobile platforms they would choose for business, Apple and Android were the two front runners with Microsoft and BlackBerry some way behind. There is no questioning BlackBerry's security credentials, but some felt they were let down in terms of apps and user acceptance.
Meanwhile Windows 8-based devices are slowly gaining popularity, but still behind iOS and the fast rising Android. BlackBerry has slid further down the table.
That said, BlackBerry has a number of ardent fans - as we find whenever we publish a critical article in Computing - and with its untarnished reputation for security and new software-based device-agnostic approach its hold on control freaks may well see it rise up the charts once again.
This is a summary of the keynote address of the Enterprise Mobility Summit 2014. Further research will be published in Computing over the coming days and weeks.
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