Enterprise Windows Phone: Is Microsoft too late?

Enterprise Windows Phone: Is Microsoft too late?

Summary: Windows Phone 8.1 includes many management and security features that IT should find compelling. Does that matter anymore?


Mobile devices have been a disruptive technology in the enterprise. It's a cliche, but it's absolutely true and extremely important. Unfortunately for Microsoft, it's Apple that has been doing most of the disrupting.

Like most (maybe all) disruptive technologies, mobile devices gained their foothold without the cooperation of IT, and perhaps even against their policies. Obviously IT departments are on board now, but in the meantime, purchasing decisions have moved, in great part, out of their control.

That's why it's hard to gauge the significance of Microsoft's announcements yesterday of enterprise security and management improvements in Windows Phone 8.1. Looked at in isolation, they're very important and technologically impressive. The problem is that if end users don't want to buy Windows Phones it may not matter.

What exactly are the improvements? Microsoft spelled them out in a blog entry yesterday. There will be a session on the at BUILD later today and the video will be available (at this link) 24-48 hours later.

The major bullet points:

  • Mobile Device Management — This makes it easier for enterprises to enroll Windows Phones in a management system, either Microsoft's or (more likely) a third party system from MobileIron, AirWatch or one of the many others. This is, of course, important, but not revolutionary, although it's worth pointing out that Android still lacks this at the base OS level. Android MDM support is typically added by the handset companies like Samsung.
  • Windows App Platform Convergence — This is huge and especially appealing to enterprises that write in-house software. The possibility exists to write one app that will run on Windows desktops, tablets and phones. (And Xbox, for all those enterprises that do Xbox deployments.)
  • Security — There are numerous improvements here such as secure and trusted boot and remote lock and PIN reset. The PIN feature is just one a few that address the big pain points for help desks; in previous versions, a PIN reset requires a complete system reset.
  • S/MIME for Secure Encrypted Email — The standard mail client can do signed and encrypted email under management of the Exchange server.
  • Assigned Access — Lock a handset to a single app. This might be a good idea for enterprises to use with low-cost Windows Phones (and there are some very low-cost ones) in order to have rigid control of the device.
  • Enhanced App Management — Enterprises can set up an app store ("private app catalog") and black/whitelist apps in the Windows Store. Enterprise apps can be pushed to the device, updated, removed or defined mandatory. Store apps can also be published in the enterprise store. As I discussed in a story yesterday, app deployment and management control is more flexible for Windows Phone than for other platforms.
  • Certificate Management — Many enterprises use digital certificates for stronger user authentication. Now, using your MDM system and SCEP (Simple Certificate Enrollment Protocol) you can deploy these certificates to Windows Phone.
  • Enterprise VPN and Wi-Fi — Like a lot of MAM (Mobile Application Management)/EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management) systems, Windows Phone supports per-app VPNs that are built-up and torn down on the fly for each invocation of the app (see the graphic below). Particular Wifi networks can be designated by IT for Mobile Data Offloading, so when they are available traffic will go through them rather than through the mobile network.
Windows Phone 8.1's per-app VPNs are similar to those in other major mobile security products. Image courtesy MobileIron.

A white paper from MobileIron on Windows Phone 8.1 in the Enterprise actually goes into much more detail than what Microsoft has so far provided and includes interesting analysis. They expect significant interest from their enterprise customers in Windows Phone 8.1, particularly from those in regulated industries.

I spoke with Ojas Rege, MobileIron's VP of Strategy. He and the white paper point out important improvements not mentioned in the Microsoft blog. The management tools are better for all sorts of important characteristics: connections to corporate Wi-Fi networks; conventional system-wide VPNs; phone log support is improved so that help desks can get access to them to troubleshoot more effectively; there are even management policies to disable Internet Explorer, disable data access when the phone is roaming, and to disable Save As and/or sharing in Microsoft Office. 

It took a long time, till the third generation of Windows Phone, for Microsoft to put meaningful security features in it. But, then again, the same was true of Apple and Google. It wasn't till the third or fourth generation of iOS and Android till they started dealing with security, and arguably Google still doesn't.

This was obviously intentional. As I've said before, Microsoft seems determined to ape Apple's phone strategy. They're even making the phones now that they bought Nokia. Their app security and store policies are very similar, but with 8.1 they may be leapfrogging Apple, at least with respect to the enterprise.

What they've accomplished with Windows Phone 8.1 is to make the product appealing to IT in many ways. The heavy subsidies for Windows Phone models, much heavier than iPhones and even top Android phones, might make other powers in the enterprise welcome Windows Phone for large deployments.

In that sense, the most important thing Microsoft has to do in order to make their enterprise features successful, is to make their phones desirable, or at least acceptable, to end users. They know this too; it's why all the wiz-bang consumer features were announced early on BUILD day 1 and the enterprise features were announced later, and to much less fanfare.

Topics: Security, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Mobility, Windows Phone

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • As Usual, Microsoft Is Later Than A Pregnant Woman...

    The elephant in the boardroom is the huge and salient fact that Windows Phone (all versions) sucks watermelons through a garden hose!
    • If that is so...

      Why did Delta Airlines give Windows phones to their flight attendants and Surface tablets to their pilots? Why did my company (30,000+ employees) shift to Windows Phone from Blackberry? Why did a large Spanish bank just commit to Windows Phone as a corporate platform?

      You can rant all you want about what a supposed failure Windows Phone is, but the more exposure it gets in the corporate environment, where IT staffs have to worry about deployment and management of a single platform, the better Windows Phone gets.

      Does it have an uphill climb to gain greater acceptance. Of course, it does! No one can deny that, but to assume that iPhones or Androids phones are ready for corporate prime time is quite a stretch of credibility.

      BYOD may cause a dozens (or hundreds) of different devices to show up on the corporate networks, but when it comes to finalizing a corporate standard phone device, Windows Phone has better management tools and better security than the competitors.

      Microsoft hasn't spent all the time and resources on corporate customers to cede that ground now to Google and Apple.
      • Kepp calm and...

        Enterprise adoption is not a synonym to "widespread" adoption.

        Just to give you an idea. Until late 2007 most ATM had OS/2 inside. Why? Because IBM offered better tools (Rexx, SNA, etc.) to integrate them to the corporate offices running VM or OS/400. That didn't stop OS/2 from becoming a fringe player.

        I agree that current Windows Phone 8.1 can be poised to replace old BlackBerries for clerical and middle management, now with its whitelist, blacklist and mandatory apps. Any IT .net wiz kid could create a dashboard or approval system using the new integrated API. But that won't stop the BYOD trend for top-level and C-level management. The iPad and iPhone bring so much more to the table than basic workflow stuff. Think SAP, AutoCAD 360, Photoshop Mobile and now Office for iPad v. iWork.

        I myself see a bright future for a niche Windows Phone 8.1 as a cheap corporate phone now with its $0.00 licensing. But that don't mean Microsoft can be able to pull this off without getting tired in the process.
        • Say what?

          I don't see anything you listed for iPad or iPhone that isn't already available on the Windows platform, including Surface (I use Photoshop every day on mine), and phone.

          A heads up comparison of the two is really only missing one thing for the C suite - status symbol. For some unknow reason some think that having an Apple on a device makes you cool. But status, like fashion is fickle.
        • LOL!

          "But that don't mean Microsoft can be able to pull this off without getting tired in the process."

          That doesn't even make any sense.
        • So, then..

          Which WP have you tried out for yourself?
      • I knew

        Great days will come for MS after Nadella took the lead, but did not expected Microsoft to come to EXCELLENCE so soon. And all the good news with W/WP8.1

        OMG, bad days for trolls nowadays, so much "work" to do in forums these days and so sleepless nights..

        Hm.. And me?! I'm happy, made a bunch of cash with MS over the years :)
    • Errmm!

      If you don't have anything to add to a discussion then maybe you shouldn't press the submit key. I like Windows Phone. Never had an Apple anything and never will, status symbol circa 2010... always been happy with Nokia phones, why try the rest when they perform the way they do.
    • Spoken from an ignorant fool.......

      who has never even used one. Just another worthless Google/Apple fanboy with nothing important or intelligent to say.
    • Don't feel sad, orandy. It's clearly obviously you're upset

      that Microsoft has the audacity to create better products and to continue to grow, but that shouldn't bother you if you're not emotionally attached to any tech companies.

      Lighten up, except the facts you hate, and move on.

      Or don't do the first two, and just do the last.

      Same thing.
    • So wrong its simply a stupid thing to say.

      I owned an iPhone for 3 years. I know Android pretty well too. My wife got a new one about 6 months ago.

      Unlike idiots who for some bizarre reason hate Microsoft and say ridiculous things about them and their products, I do not see any wisdom in saying such things about companies whos products are already happily used by millions.

      What I will say is that after considering upgrading to the iPhone 5, after considering an Android phone and investigating them thoroughly, I very nearly went the iPhone 5 route and then had some hands on experience with WP8 and for my tastes and purposes the WP8 devastated both the iPhone 5 and any Android phone I have seen in real life or review.

      To me the Android OS comes across as some piece of cobbled together software that's been forced to do a job it was never meant for. What it might have been meant for I couldn't guess. The iPhone 5 is a great phone generally, but the smaller screen dosnt cut it any more and its UI and OS are just not as slick and user friendly as the WP8.

      I can tell you what the TRUE elephant in the boardroom is, the fact that Windows phone 8 is so incredibly fantastic and so few people know about it or understand its even available out there.

      And the whole idea of Microsoft being too late????

      Ha! Hows that work??

      Seriously? How in heaven is any company supposed to be too late to get into a particular market? Is it like...hey! This has been apopular market for several years now, anyone not already in it is excluded by law? Nobody is ever allowed to compete? Nobody has ever been successful under such circumstances?

      Ha! What a joke. Just go ask Google how impossible it is to slowly push your way into an old market. Anyone here ever heard of search engines? Before January 1996?

      Microsoft started behind in mobile phones, sure, Google started off behind in search engines, sure. As it turns out, if some around here don't realize it or not, firstly, Microsoft has a lot more money right now than Google had when they started going after the search engine market. Secondly, Microsoft is beyond enormously motivated.

      Im sure they are ENORMOUSLY beyond enormously motivated to make it in the smartphone market. Im also very sure the reason they are so motivated to be a big player in the smartphone market is because they see massive pitfalls and downfalls over the long term if they do not make it in the smartphone market.

      I suspect the odds of MS not becoming a big player in this market really is nil. Im sure it will cost them, but just the same, its a cost they will gladly bare today to avoid the cost they probably couldn't bare forever down the road if they were unsuccessful.

      Watch it happen. Microsoft will succeed. They will eventually do whatever it takes. Or they will fold.

      Make your bets. I know where my money would go.
  • MS pulled their goalie while Google was on a power play

    By focussing on a piddling device and a soon to be replaced interface (touch), MS added three years to Google's lead in big data systems software and office services.
    • Huh?

      What are you talking about? I think if you look closely you will find Microsoft Azure and Amazon fighting for the #1 slot in cloud services - Google? Not sure where they are? But they are not considered one of the top two, at least presently. And Office, whether a subscription or on the desktop is simply superior to anything out there today. Seems as if your trying to re-write something that has already been written. Google has the lead, but in no way is it a three year + lead.
      • By Big Data

        he means they have had time to collect a hell of a lot of personal information.
        He then goes on to use a term synonymous with Microsoft to describe a Google service.
        Maybe he forgot what its call, who knows.
      • It's ironic...

        ..but real. The top performers in Cloud are Microsoft and Amazon.

        Amazon is clearly poised on creating "appliance" devices (Kindle Fire, Fire TV, etc.) which plug into the cloud for services, while Microsoft is still trying to create "satellite" (Windows Phone, Surface, etc.) devices to its Windows desktop strategy, enhanced by the cloud, thus the common "PC plus" mantra.

        I'm not sure where Google's going with such disparate initiatives like Android Wear, Google Glass and Chromecast, but I think they just want to experiment and see what works and what doesn't.
        • Xbox

          MS has quite a few of those already connected to TVs and the net.
      • Using your logic (or complete lack thereof)

        The Ford Focus is the best car, ever made. Mercedes, Porsche, BMW, Lexus etc. should all just give up. Nokia phones are disposable junk. Designed by Foxconn, and built in Indian Sweatshops, they are cheap junk.
        I hate trolls also
        • Stop talking like an idiot

          Have you ever even seen a Nokia phone, that you are calling it cheap junk. First get some knowledge about the quality of Nokia phones & then say something. You have always said nonsense about MS, but this time you are targeting Nokia!! It seems to me that you've gone completely mad.
    • You're not paying attention

      Microsoft is far from focusing on "piddling" devices. Watch some sessions from the big data conference to see Microsoft Research folks or take a look at SQL 2014.

      Now on the data side, yes Google does collect far more personal data which isn't necessarily a good thing for consumers. Microsoft has a treasure trove as well via licensed data from partners. Kind of a wash.
      • You might want to "look behind the curtain"

        You'll see Microsoft collects more personal data, than Google, by a large margin. You sound like a kook-aide drinking Obama supporter. No need to let facts get in the way of your hero's teleprompter speeches.
        I hate trolls also