Although email's role as the primary method of communication is declining, the ability to access email functions outside of the office is still a primary mobile productivity function. With mobile device management (MDM) features constantly improving, admins may be wondering if mobile mail, calendar and contact apps have finally caught up to the capabilities that exist in Microsoft Outlook on the desktop.
The basic answer to that question is "yes." Companies want to protect data delivered through email while offering employees as much productivity as possible, and one way to do that is with secure containers.
What do secure containers offer?
Secure mobile email containers can encrypt data and attachments in email. Many MDM platforms, such as Good Technology, allow attachments to be opened within a secure container and intranet links to be opened in a secure Web browser. The caveat is that employees must put an MDM client app on their mobile device so IT policies can control email delivery and access to calendar, contacts, intranet-viewing, and company-delivered or recommended apps.
Corporate mobile productivity access comes in two flavors: Users can have a native experience or a separate app experience. With the native experience, users just open up their native application and receive company data, with access usually enforced with a device login passcode. This allows users to view company and personal information all at once or within separate sections of the same app. The native experience is the more desired one for employees, because it presents less of a learning curve than the separate app experience does, and is readily available with better search capabilities. It's worth noting that native capabilities on iOS have been around for a few years, but those same capabilities have appeared on Android only recently, due to the platform's fragmentation.
The separate app experience, which is a "sandboxed," or secure, version of mobile email, calendar and contacts, means that corporate data is separated from the rest of the device within a secure container app. The app is password protected and its user experience differs from that of native mail, calendar and contacts apps. Some people actually prefer this experience because it combines the functionality of multiple apps into a single app while separating work and personal functions. This approach also is more secure, which makes mobility administrators very happy.
On par with Outlook
From an overall functionality standpoint, the basic features of mobile mail, calendar and contacts have nearly caught up to those of Outlook. Mail comes automatically or even earlier than via Outlook on the desktop; users can access offline folders on mobile; and emails can be searched by date, user or subject.
Most systems even work with Active Directory to import the company directory when it's needed. Plus, contact apps include the employee directory and allow users to import contact lists to their device. Mobile calendar apps allow users to book, accept or reject, and add people to meetings. The yearly improvements of these tools really make productivity features on a mobile device a great experience.
The one large exception to that otherwise great experience is that it can be tricky to book meetings on mobile devices. You cannot see other employees' availability and don't have access to book a specific room within a MDM calendar tool. In addition to needing a plug-in to Outlook to book rooms, mobile productivity features tend not to allow you to report spam and open certain document types. Still, those are minimal inconveniences that don't affect the overall experience that much.
Enabling mobile business application access
Pros and cons of sandboxing
Breaking down five MDM products