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Why content is crucial for driving the new mobile workforce

During a recent doctor's visit, I saw a poster depicting someone dialing a doctor using an older Blackberry, with its tiny screen and even smaller buttons. Although they are less than a decade old, these seemingly old-fashioned devices that focused almost entirely on email, calendar and contacts marked the start of the enterprise mobility movement.

But when the iPad and larger smart devices came around, the game changed: messaging was no longer enough, and content, especially in file form, became the key vector to improve the productivity of the enterprise mobile workforce.

As mobile device capabilities advance and increasingly more business is conducted from these devices, companies must get more serious about protecting that content in ways that still deliver a great experience for users.

Nearly everyone in a modern enterprise interacts with content from mobile devices, from the marketing intern accessing email attachments on his personal iPhone to the CEO marking up a presentation on her corporate-managed iPad. And nearly everyone collaborates externally with their content: the marketing intern may send that email attachment to an agency while the CEO may send her annotated presentation to the board of directors.

However, when these mobile devices become the obvious tool to facilitate working with and sharing of content, most users have to turn to the App Store to get the tools they need. If the email attachment is large, the marketing intern may download Dropbox to get it over to the agency. In order to work with her file, the CEO must not only get a file sync and share tool, but also an annotation app, like iAnnotate or PDF Expert.

Ever since the iPad was released, enterprise users have been figuring out their own file-based workflows, saving documents as PDFs, emailing files to themselves, and endlessly revisiting the business section of the App Store to try and find a better way.

This is not only frustrating for end users – it's a glaring security risk to have corporate files constantly synced to and "opened in" apps that may or may not be trustworthy places to have sensitive information. Thus, mobile content management (MCM) enters into the market.

Impact of mobile content management

Even as the impact of content is becoming apparent, the definition of MCM and services offered to users vary wildly from vendor to vendor, but tend to fall into two main categories: ecosystem and all-in-one approaches. Ecosystem vendors try to recruit as many developers as possible to their platform, providing a content layer accessible via an application programming interface (API).

Enterprise IT departments are then charged with figuring out which data flows and apps to trust (often enforcing this via a mobile application management product or some sort of bolt-on encryption product), and which apps to pay for in bulk for their end users (at the very least, including apps for viewing, annotating and editing files). Users must deal with constant app switching, but have the advantage of picking from a wider range of productivity tools.

On the other hand, vendors taking all-in-one approaches, which tend to be targeted solely at enterprises, will attempt to combine as many file productivity features as possible into one app, which at its core is a file sync and share app. Over the past year, file rendering, editing and annotations, at least on PDF files, have all become table stakes in the race between MCM/enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) vendors to provide mobile functionality.

This has the advantage of a more unified user experience and better enforcement of security controls, as no third party products or apps are required. The disadvantage is being stuck with tools that may not be best of breed compared to alternatives available in the App Store.

At the end of the day, usability typically reigns supreme in the mobile enterprise. If the chosen solution is too restrictive or requires many steps, employees will turn away from it and use a product of their own choosing. Enterprises and vendors cannot just cobble together various applications for MCM or provide offerings that only work on files in one vendor's proprietary storage system. Business users want – and demand – a full collaboration experience on their mobile devices.

Due to this demand, the EFSS market is rapidly expanding. However, simply allowing mobile access is not enough if these platforms lack rich editing and annotation functionality and security. The vendors that win the day in the enterprise market will be those that realize the promise of the all-in-one app: delivering a great user experience for the key file productivity tools, while protecting and controlling content to the IT team's satisfaction.

Looking ahead: Content dominates mobility market

Mobile employees can now be just as collaborative with their colleagues as if they were in office. However, all of this mobility comes with a price if shared content is not protected everywhere it needs to go in the course of doing business.

At the heart of a true enterprise MCM solution, there must be a secure way to share, with protection and controls that travel with the files themselves, regardless of the devices that content ends up on.

Without that data-centric security, enterprises open themselves up to the risk of lost files, data breaches and malicious content leaks. When we look back a decade from now at this market, it will be clear that content and mobile editing was a turning point for the enterprise mobility market, just as it will be clear which companies took content security seriously.

Moti Rafalin is the co-founder and CEO of WatchDox

Follow Moti on Twitter at @MotiR