Mobile app support should outweigh device preferences

Don't let consumer popularity cloud your decision-making process when it comes to enterprise device options. Mobile app support is a far more important consideration.

Everyone has personal preferences when it comes to smartphones and tablets, but any device IT supports should be able to deliver all of a company's important business apps.

In the summer of 2007, Apple released the iPhone, and it really revolutionized the way enterprises thought about mobile. Sure, we already had personal digital assistants (PDAs) that also had phone capabilities, like the BlackBerry, Palm and the HP iPAQ. But the idea of bringing mobile to the enterprise masses didn't gain much traction until end users had a device like the iPhone to fall in love with. Employees came up with every excuse in the book for their supervisors to approve purchasing iPhones for business.

The hullaballoo over the iPhone raised an important question: Should IT pros focus on making high-demand devices available or seek out the devices that provide the best mobile app support?  

Nowadays, the pervasiveness of smartphones and tablets is allowing companies to solve problems, increase productivity and create opportunities in areas they didn't know could affect their bottom lines. Businesses can now provide employees real-time customer information, along with other company data, while in the field. But with the sheer amount of device options available and the limited resources to manage and support all of them, it's important to develop a strategy that has its priorities in order.

Recently, I spoke to a business leader who was convinced his company needed to migrate to a whole new mobile device management (MDM) platform because there was a specific feature he wanted, but wasn't available on his iPad. This executive wanted the ability to choose a secure, containerized email client when working with off-the-shelf applications. After discussing the use case in more detail, I asked if there was a specific reason the company needed to use iPads. When you click on a link within an app on Android, it lets you choose which app you want to use to send an email. In the same situation, iOS requires you to use native mail. As you can see, it turned out the iPad was just a personal preference and not necessarily the right tool to get the job done. This is a great example of how we often focus on a device we're fond of as consumers, rather than the one that works best in an enterprise environment.

IT pros should focus on identifying specific problems they are trying to solve and processes they'd like to transform. Then take a step back from personal preferences and choose the device options that best fit these use cases.

Focus on the data, not the device

In my experience, it makes more sense to look at mobile app support before the device. First and foremost, pinpoint which enterprise apps are essential to business operations. Don't try to focus on supporting a myriad of devices, as that usually becomes costly and overly complex. That's probably not the most efficient use of company resources. Mobility is about giving the users the data they need, at the time they need it, wherever they are. As an IT organization, the goal should be to make sure we deliver that data securely, through an application that is secure and effective, with an engaging user experience.

The enterprise mobility management mindset has shifted from complete control of the device to complete control of the data, and the user's device preference doesn't matter nearly as much in the latter approach, because IT is managing the application rather than the device itself.  Take caution, though, as it's often difficult to determine whether the device or the app is the cause of a specific problem. 

Many organizations have decided to support a limited amount of devices -- for example, a company might choose only to support the last two versions of the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy series. Those devices would be fully supported by IT and used to test internal applications before being released to the enterprise. Users are welcome to install the applications on their own devices, as long as the data can be properly protected, but those devices will not be officially supported by the IT organization. This way, there is still a level of user preference, but the accountability is on the user, not on IT.

As mobile professionals, our first focus should be on providing the data and processes, i.e., the business apps that workers need to perform their job. Device preference is constantly changing, but our enterprise data needs to be secured. Our users need to be enabled to be highly productive regardless of what device they choose.

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