Interview: Managing mobile apps in your enterprise

More and more businesses are rushing to embrace mobile apps, but in large companies where hundreds of apps need to be rolled out, this can present major headaches for administrators.

We spoke to Chris Isbrecht of IBM Security's MaaS360 team to find out about some of the challenges of scaling mobile to large enterprises, as well as how they can be addressed.

Has mobile become a key part of driving greater productivity in enterprises?

Mobile has become the primary way organisations communicate with employees, partners and customers. In this digital age, organisations are increasingly embracing mobile apps as a way to improve productivity and meet employee requests to seamlessly work anywhere.

Given the "app overload" with today's mobile devices, there's a well-defined need for businesses to leverage apps that stand out from the crowd. There's an appetite for mobile apps that are tailored to respective businesses, optimised for end-user engagement, integrated with enterprise and third-party data and designed for dependable access.

How easy is it for large scale mobile app deployments to go wrong?

Since most organisations aren't properly educated on the fundamentals of app scaling, it's particularly easy for missteps to occur. Unfortunately, organisations don't prioritise the user experience for deployments, which leads them to ignore the importance of user self-service. IT assumes that they need to be the ones always pushing the button. Businesses also tend to deploy a solution to a small pilot group and mistakenly think that will scale and support their entire population of users, but it’s far from the case.

I would recommend organisations formally poll users - or use asset inventory - to understand the apps their users are utilising. For corporate sponsored apps, they should advertise them to users and customise descriptions, so employees understand the importance of apps in their specific catalogs. IT should also ensure they have group-based deployments to target specific users and enable administrators to target users with predefined bundles of applications that can be installed with a single click.

What tools can businesses use to manage large scale app roll outs?

When a customer starts managing a significant amount of apps, it's critical that their management tools scale for both the IT administrator and end-user. This means a company cannot get by without implementing an enterprise mobility management solution (EMM), which provides Mobile Application Management (MAM) capabilities. Attempting to do it with other tools might work with fewer apps but, not at scale.

EMM provides administrators with the ability to create a corporate app catalog, distribute corporate apps and leverage volume purchase programs. With larger deployments, supporting user groups - through Active Directory - drastically improves management and providers a better user experience.

With IBM MaaS360, we have customers that are successfully managing close to 1,000 applications in their corporate app catalog. It’s not just one operating system, there are companies managing over 500+ iOS and 500+ Android apps for their businesses and users.

The end-user needs a top-notch experience. When they enroll their device for EMM, they should instantly get the apps they need to be productive. If the admin leveraged Active Directory groups, apps are usually pushed down to the user automatically and they do not need to request them. If they don’t see the app they need, they need a one-stop shop to get them.

That is why a corporate app store is essential for success. Having an app store where users can search for corporate authorised apps - while being able to review the app's rating and co-worker comments - is a powerful, self-service tool. This keeps users happy and simplifies how they get supported apps.

What role does user self-service have to play?

Self-Service is vital because it increases efficiency - by saving your support team day-to-day tasks - and keeps users engaged and educated on the apps available to them. When a user understands what apps are available and grasps how to get them immediately, it's going to positively impact the business by saving IT a tremendous amount of time. Otherwise, IT support would be overwhelmed with hundreds of daily tasks around large scale deployments.

How do user groups fit into the process?

It's important to limit users' access to application catalogs because the objective is to maintain user productivity with the applications provided via the catalog. For example, we manage 75,000 devices for a large company with an application catalog that spans 1,000 public and private applications. The key for implementation is to limit the scope of apps to users based on employee function and then provide them with the tools to search, sort and filter apps that bolster productivity. Otherwise, pushing 1,000 apps to a device leads to end-user confusion, frustration and a loss in productivity.

What can we expect to see in the enterprise mobile landscape in 2016?

On a completely separate note, I think the industry will have to closely monitor the growth of mobile malware in 2016. This past year, we witnessed a significant uptick in mobile security incidents - Stagefright, KeyRaider , XcodeGhost and YiSpecter just to name a few - and it's eerily similar to the benign viruses that threatened PCs in the '90s before rocking the IT world in the early 2000's.

Remember when the ILOVEYOU virus infected millions of unsuspecting users, resulted in billions of dollars in economic damage and transformed PC security?

While the rise of mobile malware has been predicted for years, it's nearly certain that we’ll experience a mobile malware problem in the coming year. Businesses will need protection and it's crucial that they employ the appropriate, mobile threat management solution, which ties to a broader enterprise mobility management product.

This will allow for the immediate detection and remediation of mobile malware - before it's too late.

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