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Apple's iOS configuration profiles offer basic iPhone, iPad management

While iOS configuration profiles may not be a long term device management answer, for now they provide IT plenty of utility when managing Apple devices.

Apple's iOS configuration profiles offer a way to manage and deploy a large number of user settings to employees'...

iPhones and iPads.

IT professionals should become familiar with this feature, because it can be utilized in a variety of workplace settings. In a nutshell, an iOS configuration profile is an XML file that enables such settings as e-mail preferences, network access information, and many other types of data to be distributed to a potentially very large number of devices without a lot of work on the part of IT.

IT pros usually create iOS configuration profiles with the Apple Configurator utility. The most important function of this application, apart from eliminating the need to hand-code XML, is to implement three distinct workflows:

Prepare sets up iOS devices for enterprise use. Activities here include making sure selected devices are properly supported for whichever version of iOS they use, and applying updates as required. This is also where IT pros can deploy and update business apps.

IT pros can manage a huge number of low-level, device-specific settings via iOS configuration profiles.

Supervise enables devices to be assigned to specific groups, each with their own set of defined capabilities. IT pros can also assign names to individual devices for management use, and even restrict specific devices from syncing with unauthorized computers.

Assign can extract information required to perform specific actions from Open Directory or Active Directory (this saves significant time and minimizes the opportunity for errors). Assign can also manage the sharing of devices among users, importing, exporting, managing calendar settings and several other functions as well. A variety of security-management capabilities are also available, including storing certificates for credential management, implementing access restrictions and enabling VPNs.

IT pros can use Apple Configurator to deploy iOS configuration profiles, but they can also do it over the air, via a Web page or even an e-mail attachment.

Note that iOS configuration profiles and the associated Configurator tool do not form a complete mobile device management (MDM) strategy. In fact, many enterprise IT departments use iOS configuration profiles as a means to enroll (connect) individual iOS devices with a selected MDM product or service.

However, IT pros can still manage a huge number of low-level, device-specific settings via iOS configuration profiles, which still gives it plenty of value for MDM purposes. Want to restrict the use of the built-in camera? Prevent users from installing apps? Disable Siri? These are just a few examples of what's possible with iOS Configuration Profiles.

Making the most of this powerful capability involves just a few key steps. First, make sure your bring your own device (BYOD) policies and agreements are up to date. Since it's possible for sophisticated users to work around some restrictions, or even forge the XML files involved, all users should understand and agree to what local iOS configuration profiles are trying to do. This is just as important with enterprise-owned devices, which are usually even more tightly monitored and controlled than their BYOD counterparts.

Next, think though your entire enterprise mobility management (EMM) strategy. Configuration profiles, as noted above, are not a substitute for mobile device, application, or content management. Your particular strategy may even eliminate the need for the use of configuration profiles altogether, while being inherently cross-platform -- which iOS configuration profiles are most certainly not.

Finally, monitor the use of profiles to make sure there are no unintended consequences, misconfigurations, or even malicious profiles wandering around in your network. The network manager's job is never done. New tools like those discussed here can save time, but they can also result in some long nights when errors occur.

As EMM is still a rapidly-evolving field, it's best to look at iOS configuration profiles as an interim solution, but still one valuable enough to warrant consideration from IT. Apple will likely continue to evolve the functionality embodied here, and the functional roll-up now underway within the EMM industry overall will certainly result in some interesting additions to what Apple already provides.

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Would iOS configuration profiles provide value to your company?
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The often overlooked underpinnings of the iOS holds many powerful tools for profiles. Among the most valuable for our company are those that allow iOS devices through websites, email accounts and then, be managed mobile thanks to the iOS Configuration Utility. The Configuration Utility is one of the most important aspects to iOS configuration of profiles within the system. Having it interface with the OS servers even when mobile is of tremendous value.
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Anything that can SECURELY assist IT with management of BYOD devices and platforms that have not always been core to the organization is a good thing. For the first time today I had an Apple device push an automatic security update to my machine. The sky might be falling - or maybe security concerns are now outpacing the hands-off approach that had been the norm. Will be posting a column on that shortly!
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