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5 ways to prevent tablet time-wasting at work

by Doug Drinkwater

May 1 2013

Some businesses may boast about how tablets have transformed employee productivity, but others are having a hard time keeping workers away from Facebook, Twitter and other tablet time drainers. But if that’s you, don’t fret -- here is what you can do to sort it all out.

Whitelist/blacklist apps

If you’re happy letting workers use third-party applications as well as your company's own business apps, then there is a way of allowing this while being selective on which apps can and can’t be used.

One such way is whitelisting and blacklisting apps. Don’t be put off by the fancy names – it simply involves you allowing access to certain apps (whitelisting) while blocking off access to others (blacklisting).

It’s a fairly common feature – one study at the end of last year revealed that 50% of businesses were whitelisting apps, with another 39% blacklisting apps – and it’s offered by numerous mobile device management (MDM) and mobile app management (MAM) solution providers, including Good Technology, Citrix’s XenMobile, Sophos, AirWatch, Kaspersky Security for Mobile, Amtel and Absolute Manage MDM.

Restrict access to Google Play or Apple’s App Store

If you’re finding that your staff are downloading all kinds of unnecessary apps on the App Store or Google Play, there is a rather abrupt way of dealing with this – by cutting off access to all app stores completely.

Good Technology’s Mobile Manager and AirWatch’s Enterprise for iOS are just two solutions suitable for doing this on tablet devices, while AirWatch’s solution is able to block in-app purchases – handy if you want to allow access to third-party app stores while avoiding unnecessary costs.

Disable data roaming

Allowing data roaming is a double-edged sword for IT managers tasked with controlling iPads, Android tablets and Microsoft Surfaces in the workplace.

Enable such functionality and workers are able to communicate back with the office (via email, Skype or iMessage, for example), use most tablet apps to their full potential and carry out any other work tasks that are reliant on Internet connectivity.

But with this can comes great cost and responsibility. 3G and 4G data roaming costs can vary wildly depending on contracts (and especially when abroad), and businesses do not always know if this data is being used responsibly.

As with restricting access to app stores, disabling data roaming isn’t likely to make you or your IT manager very popular around the office but it will restrict workers to using apps locally on the device or by getting online using a nearby Wi-Fi network.  As a result, businesses may be able to cut costs and be sure that any inappropriate content isn’t being viewed on their watch or with their money (depending on who is paying for the tablet data plan).

Manage how (and which) apps are used

If you’re worried about employees dipping too much into Facebook or another app not deemed suitable for work, but don’t want to blacklist the app there are alternatives to shutting off access to those apps completely. Instead, you could always view how (and which) apps are being used on certain devices before you take any drastic action.

A number of enterprise mobility management (EMM) vendors offer this capability, including Retina-X Studios with its PhoneSheriff feature for iPad and Android tablets.

Once installed ($49.95 from either app store), PhoneSheriff logs things like web history, the photos taken on the device, emails and phone logs, as well as the applications that have been installed and opened. Registered users can log in from another computer to see how the devices are being used.

Block the device to just one app

If you really don’t trust your employees, there is one way (short of not handing tablets out in the first place) of ensuring they stay on-task with their tablets.

That is locking your iPads or Android tablets down so that only one app can be used on the device.

One of the vendors to offer this is MDM vendor Meraki, which promises to lock the iOS device into a “kiosk” mode. This means that only one app can be used on the iPad or iPhone and even the home screen is disabled.

Meraki itself promotes this solution as being ideal for retailers (using the iPad for point-of-sale), hospitality (self-service check-in) and education (so children are not distracted).

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.

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