In the 1980s and 1990s, the PC revolution freed business computing from the centralised world of the mainframe (and its minicomputer offspring), but companies generally retained tight control over the personal computers their employees could use — especially in the earlier 'desktop' part of the PC era. As computers became increasingly affordable, mobile and connected, around the turn of the millennium, more and more people began using home computers to work on after office hours.
Consumerization's influence is changing the way traditional enterprise apps look, feel and operate
From this point, it was almost inevitable that the process called 'consumerization of IT', which includes the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend, would occur. After all, who wouldn't prefer to work with a notebook, tablet or smartphone that they had carefully chosen to fit their own requirements over a device selected according to a set of corporate IT purchasing guidelines? Similarly with applications and services: if Evernote, Google+ Hangouts and Dropbox provide better user experiences for note-taking, video communication and cloud storage than their respective corporate-approved equivalents, for example, then people will find a way of using them.
Consumerization of IT doesn't just mean bringing your own device to work and using consumer apps and services: its influence is also changing the way traditional enterprise apps look, feel and operate. Microsoft's SharePoint 2013 document management/collaboration server is a good example: not only does its user interface adopt the Windows 8 'modern' look, but it also adds a managed version of the consumer SkyDrive cloud storage service, incorporates Facebook-style status updates and includes an app development ecosystem.
The trouble is, of course, that those dull-but-worthy corporate IT purchasing guidelines were put in place for good reason: under-the-radar hardware can bring serious headaches for IT departments when it comes to software provisioning, device troubleshooting and — in particular — data security.
BYOD is already well established in businesses and still on the rise. One of the leading vendors of mobile management software, Good Technology, recently published its second annual survey of 100 of its customers, which showed that the percentage of BYOD-supporting enterprises rose from 72 to 76 percent between 2011 and 2012, while the percentage with no BYOD plans dropped from 9 to 5 percent.
Other insights were that larger enterprises were most active in BYOD (75 percent of BYOD-supporting enterprises had over 2,000 employees, 46 percent had over 10,000) and, intriguingly, that many employees are willing to pay for the freedom to use their own kit: 50 percent of the BYOD-supporting companies in the survey require staff to pay for their own devices and data plans.
Those dull-but-worthy corporate IT purchasing guidelines were put in place for good reason
Consumerization of IT is clearly not going away, so enterprise IT managers cannot simply bury their heads in the sand. The challenge is to accommodate the 'work anywhere, anytime' productivity and user satisfaction benefits that consumerization and BYOD can bring, while retaining enough control to keep company data secure and compliance requirements satisfied.
This doesn't have to be a negative, finger-in-the-dyke operation for IT managers: handled properly, it can become a creative exercise, in which IT staff and employees collaborate to select and exploit a mix of devices, applications and services that will allow them to maximise productivity on their chosen devices without violating sensible corporate IT guidelines. However, this may often require significantly different skill sets than are commonly found in your average buttoned-down, Microsoft-dominated enterprise IT department.
In this article, we examine the classes of software that have developed to cope with the problems raised by BYOD, and the proliferation of portable computers in businesses generally — namely Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) suites. First we'll unpick the components of such products, then we'll summarise a series of recent analyst reports on MDM/EMM vendors, and finally examine an alternative approach.