It may be too early to say "the era of the PC is ended," as Phil Redman, a research vice president at Gartner, recently did. Still, there is no question knowledge workers are transferring many of the tasks they once performed on PCs to their smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.
While this is boosting employee productivity and creating some interesting business opportunities for companies, it's also creating management hassles for them as they struggle to ensure the security of corporate data that is accessed via mobile devices.
More Than One Flavor of Mobility
According to Gartner, 90 percent of enterprises will need to support two or more mobile operating systems through 2017.
Thanks to the popularity of the iPhone and iPad, many enterprises have adopted Apple's iOS as their main mobile device platform. Yet Android devices have their devotees as well, and new platforms — such as Windows 8 — continue to emerge. Further complicating matters, some companies opt to let employees use their own mobile devices for at least some work functions. The so-called BYOD (bring your own device) phenomenon practically guarantees companies will need to support multiple mobile platforms.
Tablets like the iPad are already popular and will likely see further adoption as Google, Apple and Microsoft, among others, roll out new tablet sizes and types. While Gartner says most companies currently support only limited functions on tablets, typically email and personal productivity apps, it says users are pushing for access to enterprise apps. In addition, it says, users are already synchronizing corporate content into public clouds for later retrieval on the devices.
Recommended Mobile Device Management Approach
Thanks to this confluence of market forces, Gartner expects 65 percent of enterprises to adopt a mobile device management (MDM) solution over the next five years.
"Organizations will find it hard to achieve an efficient mobile-support system if all platforms are not managed the same way under enterprise requirements," Redman said. "Like PCs, mobile devices are forms of client access devices, and the policies for them should be similar in strength but optimized for mobile usage, to those governing PCs."
Gartner advises IT staffs to separate mobile devices into three classes: trusted standard devices provided by the company, "tolerated" devices (typically supplied by the employee but supported by the company) and non-supported devices. IT organizations should provide a predefined list of supported technologies in each class, along with a budget for the projected amount that each selection consumes. Using this approach, with its expense limits, should minimize hassles over what constitutes "reasonable" use, Gartner says.
Providers of MDM solutions will need to expand their capabilities, Redman said. "MDM vendors are moving beyond security, to support enterprise and third-party applications, data and content. In the next two years, we will continue to see MDM platforms broaden out and become more enterprise mobile system management platforms, not just for devices alone."
For more good advice, this Mobile Device Management Buyer's Guide lists what to look for in an MDM solution, including remote device lock/wipe, application whitelists/blacklists, and remote operating system and application updating. The guide lists the five vendors that currently account for some 60 percent of the MDM market, as well as several other vendors with MDM products.
And read about the 4 Steps to Securing Mobile Devices and Apps in the Workplace, one of which (no surprise) is minimizing risk with MDM solutions.
Ann All is the editor of eSecurity Planet. Follow eSecurity Planet on Twitter @eSecurityP.