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How to manage Office 365 mobile apps for business

Microsoft Office 365 applications allow users to send emails and edit numerous types of documents, but the mobile apps present a number of adoption issues that IT should learn about.

The majority of Office 365 subscriptions focus heavily on the desktop applications, leaving users who rely on the Office 365 mobile apps with a much different experience than desktop-focused users.

While there are some concerns around the Office 365 mobile apps' management and security, Microsoft is releasing more mobile features and enhancements for the Office 365 apps that signal its focus on engaging enterprise users in its mobile platform.

Use cases for Office 365 mobile apps

One of the most common enterprise uses for the Office 365 mobile apps is checking email on a mobile device with Microsoft Outlook. Other common examples include using Microsoft SharePoint to access an intranet and Microsoft OneDrive for file storage. Enterprise users often need to access content on their mobile devices that's only available through Outlook, SharePoint and OneDrive apps, but that isn't the only use of the mobile Office 365 suite.

One of the largest concerns IT has for supporting the Office 365 apps is users aren't downloading the latest application updates.

Users might need access to other tools and services within the Microsoft Office 365 cloud platform, such as PowerApps, Microsoft Teams, Power BI, Forms and OneNote. The use cases for these apps include filling out custom forms in the field with PowerApps or Forms and tasks that require mobile device-specific features, such as GPS, bar code scanners and cameras. Some of these services, however, are restricted to higher-end Office 365 subscription plans.

Microsoft is frequently pushing out updates to Office 365 apps, as shown in the Microsoft 365 Roadmap site, which highlights some of the latest changes. Many of the features detailed on the Roadmap site are relevant to enterprise users, because they target security, collaboration capabilities and productivity.

One example of a new feature that enterprise users will find useful is Microsoft Meeting Insights. This feature, set for release in November 2019, will allow mobile users to access emails and documents that are relevant to their appointments and meetings directly from the related calendar event. Another example of these Office 365 mobile app features that can improve the end-user experience with the Outlook app on iPad is the split-screen UI. This new feature allows the user to run Outlook in a split-screen, so they can open multiple emails or view the message list and calendar at the same time.

Potential issues with Office 365 mobile apps

Despite Microsoft's enhancements for the Office 365 mobile apps, IT administrators have some concerns with these applications. One of the largest concerns is users aren't downloading the latest application updates. The result is a user base with many different versions of each Office 365 app installed on their devices.

This issue is especially difficult for organizations that adopt a BYOD policy, which removes certain controls IT typically has on fully managed mobile devices. The inconsistent versions of each app can cause problems for IT pros, because they need to provide technical support for multiple versions of an application, and the inconsistency could result in delays, confusion and frustration for the users.

Microsoft Office 365 includes more than 10 different apps for mobile devices and tablets in the Apple Store and Google Play, including Yammer, SharePoint, Outlook, OneDrive, PowerApps, Power BI and Teams. The apps run on different mobile OSes and provide different experiences, so training end users on how interact with these apps can be a challenge. If IT professionals are in charge of this training, they must design one common training plan for all users across multiple OSes.

Security remains a top priority for IT, so it must factor in the security risk of each new application its users run. The Office 365 mobile apps store business data on Microsoft Azure, as well as users' mobile devices, that may include sensitive information, such financial info, HR reports and intellectual property. Users could store this data in SharePoint, email and OneDrive, for example.

One of the main concerns IT admins have for securing mobile app data is device theft, so IT must ensure users have secure passwords that a thief could not easily guess. IT can easily mandate these Office 365 mobile settings across its corporate-owned mobile devices, but once again, BYOD can present challenges.

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