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IT welcomes common mobile application management features

Developing apps based on native, OS-level mobile application management features is a step in the right direction toward standardizing the technology.

IT today must choose its EMM platform based on the apps it supports, but a vendor-led push to simplify mobile application management could change that.

Mobile application management (MAM) is a component of enterprise mobility management (EMM) that allows IT to set security policies for, and otherwise control, individual mobile apps on users' devices. The challenge with implementing MAM is there are no standard APIs for app management. That means developers have to tweak their app's code for each MAM or EMM product with which they want it to work.

As IT departments have shifted their focus from managing devices to managing data and apps, the lack of MAM standards has been a major drawback.

"The issue of getting mobile apps under management is a priority for every enterprise," said Todd Knapp, CEO of Envision Technology Advisors LLC, an IT services firm in Pawtucket, R.I.

Adjusting an app to work with multiple MAM offerings can be quite a headache for developers, said Michael Finneran, principal analyst with dBrn Associates in Hewlett Neck, N.Y. As a result, there aren't many apps that work with every MAM platform. That means organizations often must choose an EMM product based on the apps it supports, or talk developers -- either internal or third-party -- into making versions of their apps that work with their chosen product, Finneran said.

Vendors promote common mobile application management features

To address the challenges of MAM, four vendors -- VMware AirWatch, MobileIron, IBM and JAMF Software -- started the AppConfig Community, an organization whose goal is to make MAM features consistent across all EMM platforms.

Someone has to take charge on implementing standards.
Stephen Monterosvice president, SIGMAnet

"Someone has to take charge on implementing standards," said Stephen Monteros, vice president at SIGMAnet, an IT consultancy based in Ontario, Calif. "This is a good first step, as these are major players getting the ball rolling."

Under their partnership, formed in February, the vendors will encourage app developers to use the common, native APIs and mobile application management features that are built into operating systems (OSes). They will initially focus on Apple iOS, and then expand to Android for Work and Windows 10. Common MAM capabilities at the OS level include containerization, app configuration and single sign-on features. Apple also offers Managed Open In, which lets IT control the flow of data between apps.

This vendor-neutral approach means AppConfig Community platforms and apps will be compatible based on the OS -- for instance, the Dropbox for iOS app would work across multiple EMM platforms, without having to alter the code. The Dropbox app would not lose compatibility with other MAM platforms it already supports that aren't part of AppConfig, either. As a result, IT shops won't have to choose an EMM platform based on the apps they want to use or vice versa.

There are more than 60 independent software vendors (ISVs) involved in the AppConfig Community. These companies, which will build apps designed to work across different MAM offerings, include Salesforce, Dropbox, Box and Concur.

The AppConfig Community's promotion of OS-level mobile application management features will make more vendors and developers want to join, Monteros said. And if larger EMM or app vendors implement one standard, more companies will follow suit, he said.  

Still, AppConfig doesn't completely solve the problems of MAM, Knapp said. Some ISVs won't conform to its guidelines, and other EMM vendors will want to offer more than support for native, OS-level app management features. Several of the largest EMM vendors, including BlackBerry, Citrix and Microsoft, aren't participating.

Some smaller vendors, such as Apperian and Cortado, already take similar approaches to mobile app management. By taking advantage of built-in mobile application management features in iOS and Android for Work, Cortado's Corporate Server 8 EMM platform allows IT to run any custom application, as long as it supports either OS. Developers don't have to tweak the app to work with Cortado. Similarly, Apperian uses native iOS and Android APIs to connect apps to its MAM platform, so apps just have to support the OS to work with the tool.

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