Mobile Application Management complexities – What’s the right solution ?

The consumerization of IT wave has created new opportunities. Vendors have rushed in with their offerings and the market is still in flux. In this post , I share my opinions and learnings from large enterprise customers trying to keep the corporate secure while allowing users to adopt a flexible work style with devices of their choice (BYOD).

In 2008 when Windows 8 planning was getting kicked off, I had the opportunity to be part of the team thinking about improving end user experiences with software distribution. Instant gratification through streaming, eliminating procedural model of application installs in favor of declarative models, application virtualization to carry legacy applications into the new application world, were some of the themes we discussed. We also discussed a new Windows appstore for distributing Windows apps and designed developer as well as end user experiences with the appstore.

4 years later Microsoft announced Windows 8 with an integrated appstore experience targeted for tablets and PCs, and a new application model. Enterprises provided feedback to the initial Windows 8 release, and in response to that feedback, an year later, Microsoft announced Windows 8.1 adding a bunch of enterprise features such as Workplace Join, Work Folders and an Open MDM API to allow third party Mobile Device Management (MDM) products to manage Windows 8.1 devices. It’s a welcome gesture on Microsoft’s part to level the playing field for all MDM vendors including Microsoft when it comes to managing devices – Windows and non-Windows.

As we know, most MDM vendors are moving into Mobile Application Management (MAM) space as well. Consumerization of IT poses several challenges to IT leaders, one of which is securing corporate data on consumer devices. There are several MAM solutions in the market, but the whole app management ( acquiring, distributing, and managing the apps) in a customer scenario is still immature. Gabe Knuth has done a brilliant job in describing the complexities of managing apps in this article. Despite good MAM solutions, acquiring and distributing apps to devices is still complex business.

In my view, “containerization” approach including app wrapping and SDK is a stop gap arrangement. The real answer is to have all Operating systems standardize and support MAM capabilities via the OS. This is the natural evolution cycle of a new market need, the solution of which shows up first as a band-aid before the cure is found.

If we look at Apple IOS and Android, Apple is further along as they include MDM as well as MAM support in IOS7. This means no app wrapping or SDK needed on IOS7. This helps eliminate a lot of complexity in how these apps can be acquired and distributed. Android, Blackberry and Windows still need to follow suit.

If we look at this problem from a standpoint of multiple vendors, it makes perfect sense to have MAM support be a native capability in all operating systems.

Stakeholder benefits of Native MAM

App Developers: Writing to each MAM specific SDK is a wasted effort. If they can write once to an OS API and different MAM vendors can then plug into the OS, it is a much cleaner solution for developers. Allows them to save cost and extend reach by having their apps enabled for multiple MAM products.
MAM vendors: Saves time and effort for them as they don’t have to reach out and invest in building an application vendor ecosystem. In fact, each MAM vendor can now have access to a much larger application ecosystem enabled by the OS or device vendor. They will however, not be able to differentiate based on numbers of apps supported , so will need to figure out other differentiators such as enhanced user experience.
IT Pros: Gives them wider app selection to offer their users.
End Users: They get seamless experience and a broader choice of apps to pick from. The applications always stay up to date.

The good news is MDM/MAM vendors have started to take notice on the complexities of the current model and are moving in the right direction abandoning the “containerization” path. For instance, Vmware just made a strategic shift embracing iOS7.  This is a welcome move that would benefit everyone including end users, IT Pros and app developers.

While Citrix through XenMobile is trying to create an app ecosystem using WorX gallery, they will need to change the direction for IOS7 and eventually Android, when Android offers those MAM capabilities natively.

I expect similar moves from other leading vendors such as Airwatch and MobileIron.

I also wonder if MDM is going to be a dead space in a few years – why care about devices when I can only manage things that I care about i.e. corporate apps and data. Many enterprises today require user devices to be completely managed if they are to be enabled for enterprise use.  Users don’t feel comfortable with this model for privacy reasons. As MAM/MDM world matures and types of devices proliferate, enterprises would care less about devices and more about securing corporate apps and data on those devices.

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