Just a few years ago, if someone asked me about the best business smartphone, the answer was clear: BlackBerry. In Europe, many people would have chosen Nokia as the best business device.
Those phones were welcome in the enterprise, and many corporations issued them as their standard phones for executives. Those phones and their robust operating systems were designed to offer the highest level of security for accessing corporate networks via VPNs and to integrate flawlessly with Exchange and other secure corporate email. The disadvantage of RIM and Nokia at that time was that their phones were just work phones. Now workers are begging IT departments to let them bring their new toys to work and use them in the corporate networks -- the infamous BYOD.
After ignoring the enterprise for the consumer market, the main smartphone manufacturers (Apple, Samsung, HTC, Nokia, and LG) and the main mobile OS vendors (Google, Apple, and Microsoft) are beginning to see the need for enterprise-strong mobile devices that restore the confidence of IT departments.
With more than 250 million iPhones and 100 million iPads sold,
Apple is trying to convince the corporate world that its devices are safe for the enterprise (or can be). Last year, it launched iPhone in Business and iPad in Business sections on its website. The sections are focused on security, compliance, and easy deployment of iOS devices in the enterprise. Mobile device management (MDM) servers can configure wirelessly, update settings, monitor compliance with corporate policies, and even wipe or lock managed iOS devices.
Android manufacturers are following suit. Samsung has developed its Samsung For Enterprise (SAFE) program. It is creating special versions of its phones and tablets for corporate customers, as well as special versions of the Android OS for corporations requiring improved security. The SAFE program has four pillars: Corporate Email/Calendar/Contacts, On-Device Encryption, Virtual Private Network, and Mobile Device Management. It allows IT not only to wipe or lock a missing device, but also to disable standard smartphone features such as WiFi, cameras, microphones, and data roaming, ensuring the device can be used only for authorized activities in the workplace.
Of course, Microsoft, with its new flagship Windows 8 and
Windows RT, can be seen as the best bet for mobile devices in the enterprise. Though it initially said Windows RT was "primarily designed for consumer devices," it has been busy getting the System
Center 2012 Configuration Manager SP1 ready to accommodate the growing number of Windows RT and Windows 8 phones. Windows RT and Windows 8 phones are equipped with enterprise-level applications such as Microsoft Office and Exchange, and integrating them with other applications takes minimal work. Furthermore, the configuration manager handles access and certification for iOS and Android devices in the enterprise.
OEMs like Dell have already introduced Windows 8 tablets
specifically designed for the enterprise. The Latitude 10 tablet features a full implementation of Windows 8 with a removable battery -- something critical for busy executives on the road. This is not a typical consumer tablet, but a full-featured business tablet targeted toward corporate, healthcare, and education professionals. And its security is uncompromised. Windows 8 Pro devices can be domain joined and managed traditionally via Group Policy -- something impossible for Windows RT, iOS, or Android devices.
Despite demands from employees, most organizations are much better off limiting the use of mobile devices to one platform. Managing and certifying more than one OS can be a recipe for disaster, and most IT organizations do not have the resources to monitor potential threats in different ecosystems. Also, companies should consider the possibility of limiting devices to one model of smartphone and tablet. That can increase hardware costs, but the potential savings in support and security can easily compensate for that.
To me, the BYOD trend is no more than a bad experiment with extremely expensive consequences for most enterprises. The ones that realized the danger and established clear policies and limits have been able to contain the damage, but the proliferation of devices and apps makes security more complicated every day. Using new tools and devices specifically designed to protect your networks is paramount in keeping your data safe.