Bring Your Own Apps: where mobility and cloud meet the enterprise

Employees aren't just bringing their own smartphones and tablets into the enterprise. Increasingly, they want to not just use the device they're most comfortable with, but the apps as well.

Amid all the talk about the bring your own device (BYOD) phenomenon sweeping the enterprise, there is a subtler trend brewing that is set to become more strategic for IT managers in 2013: bring your own apps (BYOA).

This article appears in the Summer 2012 iPad edition of Computerworld Australia, available free in the iTunes store.

ComputerWorld - IDG Australia

BYOA intersects two of the most visible trends in technology today – mobility and cloud computing – by giving people the option of using a public application for work. I say “public application” since the app itself could be a mobile app, a Web-based cloud app, or a combination both access methods.

The app might be free or paid-for and can be “brought” into the workplace on a mobile device or through a company PC’s Web browser. The key things for IT managers to consider are how BYOA is becoming more important than BYOD and how enterprises will invariably be faced with managing data in public apps.

But I thought BYOD was the next big thing…

It is. That is, until it has paved the way for BYOA. A cursory glance at how much the mobile device ecosystem has changed over the past two years reveals why there is so much interested in BYOD. More powerful and feature-rich smartphones and media tablets have enabled people to replace many traditional PC-centric tasks with a mobile device.

These mobile devices are making their way into the workplace, but with aggressive device refresh rates from manufacturers and competition between the big three mobile OS vendors – Apple, Google and Microsoft – the devices themselves have quickly become a commodity. The apps, however, are more “sticky” with us end-users, who invest time looking for ways we can improve our personal information management. As a result, publicly available apps are finding their way into business, big time.

What becomes of a new trend

Like many new trends in IT, BYOA is being driven from the ground up. Employee demand is the biggest driver for BYOD and BYOA is no different. With many organisations lacking any formal policies for either, IT managers are left to find a balance between the productivity benefits public apps bring with the interests of information integration, sovereignty and security.

With thousands of apps at people’s fingertips, there are a number of approaches IT managers can take to make sure BYOA doesn’t run riot across the enterprise.

Look before you lynch

It may be tempting for IT managers to declare a public app unfit for use with business data and ban it outright. We have already seen a number of high-profile cases where file storage service Dropbox has been banned, ostensibly for security reasons, but is banning an app always a prudent decision? Organisations used to ban the Internet outright once upon a time as well. My advice is to learn as much as possible about the apps being used by staff in the workplace before you pull the plug.

People are using public apps for a reason and if it is a case of filling missing features they don’t get from their suite of work apps, IT can look at providing a corporate alternative. In the specific case of Dropbox or other cloud storage services, security is always a concern, but is backing up your files so they are available on any device necessarily a bad thing? BYOA brings end-users' needs to the fore.

Integrate BYOA data

By their nature, most public apps have to play well with others on the Internet. This means there is generally a good level of integration support available for getting data in and out of an app’s public cloud service. By using an existing integration tool or API to make a copy of all the data that goes into a public app, IT managers can allow staff to use the tools they are familiar with while keeping a copy of all the business data.

This won’t stop the data from being compromised while resident on third-party servers, but it will ensure the business has sovereignty over the data which is important in the event of a significant disruption of service. In addition to the integration approach there are also products coming to market that facilitate the use of cloud apps, but keep the data resident behind the firewall.

The cloud and mobile app revolution is enabling personal information management to a level not yet witnessed by enterprise IT organisations. It’s now up to IT managers to develop and acute awareness of this trend and execute strategies around it best suited to the varying information profiles within the business.

Rodney Gedda is a senior analyst with Telsyte covering the enterprise IT and CIO programs. You can reach him at: rgedda at telsyte.com.au.

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