Are Consumer Operating Systems Right for Your Enterprise Mobile Devices?

Are they ready for your business?

In this article, Ritesh Gupta from Zebra Technologies, looks in more details at whether consumer operating systems are fit for (enterprise) purpose before recommending steps you can take to protect your devices, apps and data if you're making the move to a consumer OS.

It's anticipated that Android will be more widely used in the enterprise this year. Drivers for this include Android's dominance of smartphones and broader support for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Android's momentum is underlined by the fact tha each day, 1 million people power up a new Android device, the number of Android devices is expected to top 1 billion by the end of this year and Android has 81.9% share of the smartphone market (end of 2013).

That explains why the days of a single OS dominating the enterprise mobile market look to be over. Among a number of reasons for this, five stand out:

  • OS versatility: With mobile devices now used across the organisation, there may well be a case for using a blend of operating systems to better tailor your devices to people's specific roles.
  • Employee demand: Employees are pushing their organisations to give them work devices that offer the same appealing and tactile interface that they enjoy on smartphones.
  • End of life: With popular versions of the dominant enterprise OS coming to an end, customers of are looking for alternatives.
  • Cost savings: Consumer operating systems promise cost savings. For example, with 81.9% of smartphones using Android, most people can just pick up and use an Android device without training.
  • Accelerated deployment: With a huge range of developers, programmer resources and ready-to-go 'pro-sumer' apps available, you can quickly develop and launch a mobile platform.

While there are compelling reasons to 'go consumer', there are drawbacks – the most important being security. A consumer OS is not fully designed to be part of a corporate IT system and lacks critical features to protect devices and apps.

Another big issue is the speed of revisions, with consumer operating systems upgraded or renewed on average every six months. These revisions will require you to amend your apps and device software and can consume considerable resource.

We take a look below at how to combat these critical issues.

Securing your devices

One of the best things you can do to protect your devices is to install Mobile Device Management (MDM) software to remotely manage and protect devices.

For instance, you can review device usage and enforce security protocols, ensure that users can only access a list of approved websites, kill or wipe lost or stolen devices, enforce software updates, change security settings any time and protect against malware.

You can also take steps at the device level to protect data by containerising it in highly secure encrypted areas on your devices.. You also have the option of encrypting your devices and any data sent over wireless networks. Encryption software provides the most robust level of security available and is appropriate where your people are working with highly sensitive information.

Another important decision in securing your mobile platform is the choice of OS. For example, with Android you can select two flavours: Google Mobile Service (GMS) or AOSP (Android Open Source Project). GMS has a lot going for it with access to the Google Play app store with over a million apps,.

But there's a trade-off. You'll need to sign up to a Gmail account for these features. And by doing so you agree to the collection and possible analysis of your user's behaviour including web searches, location data and email activity. With this in mind many of our customers are opting to use Open Source that's increasingly seen to be a more appropriate OS for the enterprise.

A growing number of devices are pre-installed with Android Open Source Project, it's easy to customise and secure the OS, and a wide range of apps are available that have been created for business: for instance, navigation apps that can be used in off-line mode to save on data charges, highly secure email clients, and proven, specialist apps designed for different sectors including field services, field mobility, logistics and many more.

Protecting your app investments

To reduce the impact of OS amendments we suggest looking for ways to make your apps as agnostic and resilient to change as possible.

Key to achieving this resilience is how you develop. You have three options: developing natively for one OS, using a hybrid model or building your apps in HTML5.

In today's much more nimble mobile world we advise against locking in to one OS. In regards to the hybrid model, we're seeing some customers take this route. The thinking behind this is that core processor-heavy apps run more smoothly when developed for a native OS.

For example a delivery company whose drivers are using navigation, proof of delivery and scanning apps a lot would develop these natively. Supplementary apps, such as an email client, they would build around HTML5.

However, if that company wants to bring a new OS into the business, and if they have, say, 60% of their core apps written in native code, they will have to re-engineer them – at considerable cost. Our advice then is to develop using HTML5.

Once you've created your apps, any changes are easily made to the core code to make them compatible with OS revisions. In our experience HTML5 is robust, it's easy to develop with and, because it's OS-agnostic, it gives you much more versatility to provide your people with the best devices for their roles.

Consumer confidence

There has long been a case for introducing consumer operating systems into the enterprise. But there has always been a concern that rich usability comes at a high potential cost – compromised security. But security loopholes are closing.

And new tools are available for IT teams that enable them to better monitor, control and protect their mobile apps and devices – whether the devices are owned by the business or employees. We believe that now's the time to confidently consider using a consumer OS in the business with the expectation that the familiar and engaging interfaces will help your people achieve even more through their mobile devices.

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