Will mobility still be the primary driver of digital transformation in 2018?

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Mobility was a primary driver of digital transformation in 2017. In the face of any analysis of the lasting traction from the past year, what else might be in store for the year to come? Will mobility still be a key factor driving digital transformation? Here's why it could…should be. 

With feature and power-rich mobile devices in almost everyone’s hands and being used for work-related tasks, in 2018 the term “mobile workforce” will no longer apply to the salesforce, field service and other jobs that are done primarily from remote positions.  

Today’s workforce no longer considers itsel as being tied to a desk. With all of the new high powered mobile devices and mobile-friendly business applications available, workers are free to work whenever, and wherever they can. This new freedom is also driving a shift in enterprise IT organizations to increase focus on the performance, security and cost of both their mobile devices and the networks they use. The next evolution in digital transformation will see enterprises extending beyond Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) and MDM (Mobile Device Management) products to include the deployment of Mobile Performance Management (MPM) solutions. These solutions enable enterprises to more effectively manage key aspects, such as performance, security, expense control and analytics – all requirements for a highly successful mobile workforce. Also driving this need for MPM solutions is the rising number of security violations; businesses are facing tougher customer information security regulations and stricter compliance requirements. By adopting analytics and security tools, IT organizations are able to put a greater focus on mobile data security and application integrity.  

New mobile device technology and innovation will also play a big part in the continued digital transformation of the workplace. The drive for 5G networks to be deployed while deploying more 4G/LTE micro-cells and public WiFi access points illustrate the greater demand on mobile networks. Another indicator is the continuing rise of connected devices (IoT) that require management and support especially when used on corporate networks. In 2018, there will be even more always-connected laptops that rely on mobile networking technology for their connectivity. Furthermore, enterprises and service providers will create and deploy mini data centres on the edges of networks where they can embed computer and storage resources closer to the endpoints using them.    

The “mobile workforce” will come to include all manner of jobs as we see improved communications – above and beyond simple voice as a key for improving productivity and worker experience. For example, more effective use of video conferencing. Organisations are already using on-demand video and video conferencing to accomplish tasks like training and assisted troubleshooting. Even Finance/Accounting teams are benefiting in terms of accuracy and timeliness thanks to mobile apps for real-time tracking and reporting of expenses, such as travel. Also, the more traditional ‘mobile’ roles such as field services and sales are able to use their mobile devices more effectively, e.g. processing clients, workflow management and even troubleshooting – with the ability to send live video of the problem! 

In 2018, the saturation of corporate networks with mobile devices, both personal and company-owned, will force a shift in traditional endpoint security strategies to more tightly include mobile threat detection and prevention.    

Historically, such strategies did not have to contend with mobile networks and workers connecting over public Wi-Fi access points. Many IT organisations are just barely investing in EMM/MDM and will need to re-think these spending levels.    

Traditionally, Mobile Threat Defense (MTD) solutions have protected against vectors such as malicious apps, network attacks and OS vulnerabilities (identifying devices that are running out-dated or vulnerable OS versions) amongst others. Such solutions can even identify device configurations and settings that can expose the device or make the device vulnerable to attacks. For example, the device being set in developer mode or being jailbroken.   

Along with behavioural anomaly detection and crowd sourced threat intelligence, MTD solutions have provided a fairly robust defense up until now. However, mobile malware grew 100% year over year in 2016 and represented 7.5% of ALL malware. Particularly worrying when you consider that in March 2017, for the first time, more Android than Windows simultaneous internet connections were observed, with mobile representing 45% of total transactions.

For smaller organizations, the chances are that the same people are watching mobile and traditional endpoint devices. However, in larger organizations mobile devices might be managed by business units instead of a centralised IT function. Therefore, larger organizations will have to improve and manage the cooperation between tech groups within business units and those in a centralized IT role. 

With the continued adoption of cloud-based solutions as part of delivering core IT functionality, in 2018 enterprises will also have to place greater importance on mobile network performance and security solutions.    

The IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organisation for the advancement of technology, has certified Wave 2 as the latest Wi-Fi standard. Its main innovation being MU-MIMO, or multi-user multiple-input, multiple-output. In practice, this means the creation of access points that talk to multiple devices at the same instant.    

Whilst other new standards won't make a major impact in 2018, there’s still a lot of innovation going on that could have an impact on wireless networks – namely intent-based networking – a broad term that describes an increase in programmability, automation and even machine learning capabilities that can be applied to wireless networks. 

In 2018, as more and more functionality gets virtualised in software and the cloud, focus on enhanced network analytic solutions will have to extend to mobile and other public networks to be able to detect, isolate and remediate threats and other problems.  

It is clear that as corporate mobile users continue to rely on private and public networks for an always-connected experience, these networks are becoming increasingly ‘overwhelmed’ by mobile devices. For this reason the case is easily made for improved network analytic solutions to better monitor, manage and understand the mobile worker experience. The key is to retrieve real data from the devices being deployed whilst they are traversing the various networking topologies to see what the users are doing and experiencing. The data should provide insights into what apps and networks are being used to access what server; along with the when and where. This level of detail ensures that the analytics most accurately reflect the user/device experience. 

As more and more devices attach to networks, especially public and mobile networks, 2018 will bring a jump in dissatisfied users of enterprise mobile applications (e.g., workforce management, video conferencing, etc.) due to congestion and poorly performing applications.  

We are all too familiar with the plethora of “social” apps (e.g., Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) that appear on all mobile devices. It is fair to say that these apps have well and truly crossed over into the corporate/business world and are responsible for the huge amounts of content shared, and potential vulnerabilities. Being able to see the who, what, where and when corporate devices are accessing these sites and how much time is being spent on them, is a real boon. From a security point of view, ensuring users are not getting spoofed and following links to rogue servers in other countries is valuable.  

How should organisations go about analysing their networks and infrastructure to find any potential pinch points? For starters, organizations can sign up for trials or set up evaluations with solution-providers to start seeing what’s really going on. From there, develop a plan for a more formal and ongoing solution to manage and protect mobile employees. There are many network performance management and diagnostic solutions for evaluating / managing corporate-owned networks, but there are only a few that allow you to see what’s going on over external networks. The ability to see and manage what’s happening outside the firewall is paramount to deploying and maintaining highly productive and successful mobile workers.     

Lee Johnson, Director of Global Marketing at NetMotion Software 

Image Credit: Wichy / Shutterstock