In my inaugural TabTimes outing, I cited five key challenges facing business users deploying or considering tablets at work. This time out, I'm focusing on what I see as the most pertinent challenges facing enterprise IT decision-makers pursuing or considering support for those eager tablet-toters.
The Specter of "BYOD"
If a closet geek in your marketing department wants to use their jail-broken, home-customized off-brand Android tablet at work, you might get away with telling them "no way." But try keeping the CEO's iPad or your top salesperson's smartphone off of your network, and you could be making what we analysts refer to as a "career-limiting decision."
Multiply this by any number even remotely indicative of the explosive growth of tablets and smartphones in the workplace, and one thing becomes increasingly clear. BYOD may stand for "bring your own device" in most of the business and technology media. But to many IT people, it may soon come to mean "begin your overt drinking."
The "other IP"
Say "IP" to a predominantly technical audience and the nearly Pavlovian response will be "Internet Protocol." However, to most business people, the "IP" that matters most is intellectual property. And protecting that IP becomes more challenging when said property is made accessible to mobile tablet and smartphone users.
Complicating this challenge is the growing range of solutions available and appearing to address it. The leading mobile "office/productivity suite" solutions, including DocumentsToGo, Google Apps and QuickOffice promise security and traceability of business content. So do the provider of cloud-based file back-up and synchronization, such as Box.net and YouSendIt.
Newer solutions such as Nexus from ionGrid and SmartCipher from Covertix promise to shift the focus from securing devices or connections to securing specific files and documents as they traverse "the mobile, social cloud."
As the Buddhists say, "many paths, one mountain." All you've got to do is map out the path that best balances your need to protect your company's critical IP with you users' needs to access that IP to do their jobs and satisfy your customers. Hey, no pressure…
Manage those apps!
Beyond supporting a range of devices and their users, IT is particularly challenged when it comes to managing access to and performance of the apps those users need to do their jobs.
IT decision makers must first constrain the universe of permitted apps based on company productivity and security requirements. (A list of permitted and forbidden characteristics may make more sense than trying to maintain lists of specific permitted and forbidden apps.) Those decision makers must also ensure that authorized apps and information are available to authorized users when and where needed, and that those apps perform as expected.
Not all application access and performance management solutions are equally prepared for the mobile, social cloud. You may want to begin evaluating the tools in use or under consideration at your company now, if you haven't begun doing so already.
Windows 8 and the ultrabooks
Windows 8 is coming closer and closer. Yesterday we saw Microsoft release the Consumer Preview, and the company promised it would be talking about Windows 8 for enterprise "soon".
As far as Windows goes, this new version appears to offer much promise, including a spate of light, thin and powerful ultrabooks intended to compete with iOS and Android tablets. So far, so OK, right? After all, Windows users should have access to cool hardware, too.
But wait a minute. Aren't most of the Windows PCs at your organization still running Windows 7 or even Windows XP? And which of your most business-critical Windows apps are "tablet-ready," if any?
And for that matter, how many versions of Windows is your organization ready, willing and/or able to support effectively? Are you planning to move everyone to Windows 8 as soon as possible, or are you going to wait to see how well it performs in real life first? (IDC research predicted in a December 2011 study that Windows 8 would be "largely irrelevant" to traditional PC users.)
How do these decisions and considerations affect your ability and plans to support those Windows 8 ultrabooks, especially alongside a growing number of Android and iOS tablets and smartphones? Expect to face way more questions than easy answers about this for some time to come.
Planning to Prevent Poor Policies
The only effective defense against these and other challenges for enterprise IT decision makers is development and enforcement of effective policies for guiding and governing user device and app choices and access to critical resources.
This process is complex and far-reaching, and must include input from stakeholders beyond the IT department. And it's a process that should already be under way at your organization, if you hope to support tablets and smartphones effectively. Now more than ever, if you fail to plan, you must be planning to fail.