The mobile working challenge

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I’ve done some work recently for a couple of relatively small businesses who work in very different sectors but both have very similar problems around managing their mobile workforce.

I won’t go into the specifics of the challenges for them because that’s not that important, but what did strike me was how big a challenge mobile working is for businesses of all sizes and I thought the experiences of a couple of smaller companies where worth sharing, we can all get wowed by the problems of our biggest clients, for example one we work with has over 20,000 ipads in one division – wow we all say, but actually the problem of managing that estate is no different to the mobile challenges that businesses with a handful of devices have, it’s really just scale that’s the issue and for most of us, we work in those much smaller businesses.

why the problem?

It’s a good starting point, why indeed is mobility such a problem? It’s because technology is now so pervasive, lets face it, we are all increasingly demanding of our technology, we want access to information from business email, to holiday snaps and social networks across a myriad of devices at a time that suites us.

But it’s not all consumer fun and Angry Birds, this mobile world is changing the way we do business, we expect access to key and critical data when we are mobile, be it travelling, at a client, or at home, we are all demanding that access on our range of gadgets.

That’s presenting a challenge to businesses and their IT teams, because even if it doesn’t give us competitive edge, you don’t want to be the business that looks like its stuck in the past, not able to interact in the modern world.

what’s the problem?

OK, so why does the need for mobility give us a problem? – Really it’s the challenge it presents to our data, the technology world has much changed, the idea that our data, our intellectual property, the things that define our businesses, sits comfortably cocooned in our lovely secure data centre, only accessed from our secure and controlled desktop machines, is as we’ve discussed, dead, as a business it’s very rare to be able to operate in that way today, we at least want to be able to access our email and our calendars when we are out an about.

And there’s the problem, the minute we place access to our data, or more likely the data itself, on those mobile devices  we’ve introduced a huge problem, how on earth do we control and secure that data both in transit and at rest on our range of gadgets and gizmos, be they corporate devices or owned by the user themselves.

what to do?

So if the above stuff is part of the problem, what on earth do we do about it?

Well the challenge of mobility is a biggy, no doubt;

  • How do we get applications and data to our devices?
  • How do we protect the data once its there?
  • How do we secure the data on the devices?
  • How do we manage our wide range of things?

no data on the device

I suppose the obvious start for many organisations is, don’t let the data sit on those devices at all and just deliver your mobility solution across the wire, with no data ever held in place, from the traditional idea of session based remote desktops, to apps that just front end access to an application, there’s a huge range of ways of providing mobile access to our corporate data.

There are of course challenges with any of these types of technology, making it usable for the users (why VPN technology often fails so miserably) and the obvious challenge of quality of connection, without that, the idea of mobility falls right down.

Because of the challenges of connectivity (come on you’ve all tried to work on the train!) the need to have data in place on our mobile devices is pretty much a requirement for the serious mobile worker and that was certainly the case for the two businesses I’ve been working with.

And that gets to the crux of their challenge,

what do we need to do to ensure our data is protected and secure?

So we presented some advice on some areas they should consider and I thought it maybe useful to share;

protect the data on the device

Obvious I suppose, but what do we mean by protect the data?

In this case it is about ensuring that the data held by the company is the definitive version of the data, to ensure that all had access to data as and when needed and of course that data could be recovered in the event of loss or failure of the device.

The problem was that the current technology in use in these organisations broke one of the great rules of technology, it made it too difficult,

technology really has to be the path of least resistance for the users

in the end users where not making sure that their data was synchronised back to the central systems, because it was just way to difficult, putting that data at risk.

What we needed was a solution that could centralise backup, so when connected to the Internet the data would synchronise automatically without to much user thought.

Of course there are a range of technologies out there for doing this, in this case however we looked at some very impressive stuff from Druva (www.druva.com) ticked the boxes for protecting the data on the devices and the choice to deploy on-premise or from the cloud provided the ideal solution for what we needed.

secure the data on the device

How’s this different from protecting the data? In this case or at least in my mind, protecting data is all about ensuring we have a copy of the data and can access it even if we lose the device, securing it, is about what happens when we lose a device, how do we ensure that our data is not accessed by anyone who shouldn’t be getting to it, remember that data is potentially critical to our business operations, or even provide access into our very systems.

One of the key things you should always be looking at when using mobile devices from laptops to smartphones is encryption, of course encryption is now provided as pretty much standard from Windows 8 on your laptop, through to smartphones and tablets all of the major operating system providers are providing encryption to their devices, some by default, some need turning on but its there and you should be using it.

What was stopping our customers using it then? Complexity was the challenge, so again we looked at how to simplify that, we came across a neat solution from WinMagic (www.winmagic.com) which gave us a neat management overlay for managing the encryption capability of Windows, IOS an Android via the one interface.

Of course encryption is only one tool in the arsenal, but it’s there, it’s free (the management we used is purely optional) and really should be on, but twin this with obvious stuff like password control and remote wipe capabilities to ensure you fully secure those devices from the inevitability of loss.

summary

I appreciate that we’ve only focussed on two key of mobile security here, but that was what the customer examples here demanded, of course the bigger the mobile estate, the bigger the need for increased and more scalable controls, solutions like Airwatch and MobileIron come into play to provide full mobile device management, but in the case of these relatively small customers, using some inbuilt technology with a couple of 3rd party, relatively low cost additions provided a good solid level of security to these customers mobile estates and allowed there mobile workers to operate more effectively while ensuring the business kept control of their data.

If you are looking at mobile device strategy, maybe the four points we mentioned earlier will give you a starting point;

  • How do we get applications and data to our devices?
  • How do we protect the data once its there?
  • How do we secure the data on the devices?
  • How do we manage our wide range of things?

Hope these examples help some of you.

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