Windows Phone 8: 5 BYOD Considerations

Nov 05, 2012 (06:11 AM EST)

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Windows Phone 8: Star Features
Windows Phone 8: Star Features
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Windows Phone 8 (WP8) has arrived, initial reactions are largely positive and signs have surfaced that iOS might not be as invulnerable as it has sometimes seemed. Are conditions right for Microsoft's mobile OS to shake up the BYOD scene?

Ojas Rege, VP of strategy at MobileIron, said in an email that WP8 is "a player," because "it has a compelling user experience ... and a seat at the table with IT." But he cautioned that "this doesn't guarantee success" so much as afford Microsoft an "opportunity to prove itself."

What must WP8 do to rise to this challenge? We break down the factors facing Microsoft's newest mobile OS.

1. Basic IT Tools Similar To iOS And Android

The number of third-party mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM) vendors has exploded due largely to the remarkable popularity of iOS and Android devices. These consumer products weren't designed with IT friendliness in mind, so developers have had to add functions and controls that the native OSes lacked.

[ Microsoft has a home-grown tablet -- is a phone next? See Microsoft To Build Its Own Windows Phones? ]

MDM and MAM vendors say WP8 will similarly require their services. Given the vendors' self-interests, this argument is predictable -- but based on the WP8 feature set, it's also true.

Out of the box, iOS, Android and WP8 offer most of the same tools: support for Exchange ActiveSync, a controlled, certification-driven app environment, etc. Execution differs. Viruses can infect iOS but as long as the device isn't jail broken, it's pretty safe. Android's security, meanwhile, has been shakier. Time will tell how WP8 does, but it looks solid. Microsoft's BitLocker technology provides secure encryption, for example -- but iOS and Android support encryption, too. It's the method that differs in most regards, not the feature.

Zenprise CEO Amit Pandey said during an interview that he doesn't see "any additional control advantages" built into WP8, though he did mention it offers "a more seamless approach" to collaboration due to easier SharePoint integration. Nonetheless, "Most work around securing apps is done by [MDM and MAM vendors], and not by the vendor of the OS," he stated.

Indeed, MobileIron's Rege wrote that the company's approach to Windows Phone 8 is basically the same as it is for other OSes: "use the baseline hooks ... to provide the first layer of management (lock, wipe, encryption, install app, etc.) and then create a more advanced capability stack on top of that (app security, document management, certificate-based identity, secure tunneling, etc.)."

In short, making WP8 an enterprise-grade OS is pretty much like making iOS or Android an enterprise-grade OS.

Analyst Chris Morales of 451 Research suggested this isn't a bad thing. "Being late means they were able to learn from Apple and Google to adopt the best of both worlds -- a vetted app store and a compartmentalized OS architecture," he wrote in an email.

And why not follow a successful act? As Brian Duckering, senior manager for Symantec's Enterprise Mobility Group, remarked during an interview, "Apple designed with consumers in mind. Ironically, this turned out to be pretty useful from a security standpoint." Still, he said, the iPhone BYOD trend "really took hold as the MDM pieces came into being."

2. Microsoft Office And The Windows Ecosystem

Pandey said WP8 is exciting because of "the ability to use Microsoft applications on tablets and phones." Enterprises, he stated, want "to use apps from the desktop in a seamless way, and that's the big hope that people are holding their breath for."

Indeed, Office holds a preeminent space in the enterprise. One can view Word documents and Excel spreadsheets on iOS and Android devices -- but they don't always look like they're supposed to, and editing them can involve buggy workarounds. WP8 not only wipes away these frustrations but also promises automatic synching of docs across devices via Office 365.

In an email, IDC analyst Stacy Crook offered that IT managers "would welcome a mobile device from Microsoft because of the potential integration ... with existing backend systems." But most enterprises "aren't rushing to upgrade to Windows 8 just yet," she cautioned, "and the feedback to the user experience has been mixed." As a result, "there is a question of how soon" WP8 will help Microsoft implement fully cohesive Windows-only environments.

3. Streamlined App Porting And Development

Rege wrote that the developers' "existing Windows development skills and tools can be used to now build mobile apps." In an email, Victor Cooper, a global PR representative for AirWatch, similarly remarked that WP8 could allow companies to easily port apps they already use, rather than re-building them for new platforms.

Jamie Barnett, Zenprise's senior director of marketing, pointed out during an interview that rising demand for custom apps could make WP8 a factor. Coding new apps in a single environment and then simply porting them across different devices is easier than developing for a number of different OSes, she explained. This trend matters less in a BYOD environment, as iOS and Android devices aren't going to disappear no matter how popular WP8 becomes. But for Windows-heavy businesses, the ease with which code can be transferred from one Microsoft OS to the next could be a meaningful differentiator.

4. WP8 Needs MDM And MAM

But Windows coders aren't the only developers that factor into the WP8 equation. As noted, to fit most BYOD environments, WP8 will need MDM and MAM. AirWatch, MobileIron and Symantec all announced immediate support, and Zenprise will join soon.

Microsoft recently released an SDK to support these efforts, and Rege said the company has been "very collaborative."

To an extent, a symbiotic relationship with third-party vendors makes sense for Microsoft. WP8 won't capture the entire market, so most IT departments will require tools to address a number of platforms. Microsoft's System Center 2012 somewhat addresses this by including many MDM capabilities, including some for iOS and Android. It's not cost-effective for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), however, and it's not easily implementable to companies that are already invested in competing server products. Plus, System Center 2012's MDM capabilities still leave many MAM needs unacknowledged.

In short, the full scope of the issue is "more than Microsoft wants to bite off," said Tim Williams, director of product management at Absolute Software, in an interview. He noted that the industry giant has long partnered with companies to add extra management control, citing Symantec an example.

Morales, meanwhile, wrote that "Microsoft seems to have a strong SDK, but I don't think that makes them better off than anyone else. It's all ground zero." In other words, until the developers show their wares, WP8 can't make an earnest enterprise play.

Most MDM and MAM vendors interviewed for this article said their WP8 products would mirror those in their existing lineup, at least to start. In terms of IT appeal, this is probably a good call; as Pandey put it, "People are not going to want to manage security around Windows apps and then figure out iOS and then figure Android." IT wants "uniform policies that can be pushed across all devices," he said. "Third-party vendors make it all uniform."

But users expect uniformity, too. New MDM and MAM products can't be too much like the existing ones because they need to fit into WP8's distinct UI elements. BYOD exists because employees want to bring their chosen UI to the office; if the UI is disrupted, the process falls apart.

"It's about maintaining the native aesthetic," said Duckering.

5. Consumer Interest Is The Biggest Factor

Ultimately, nothing will dictate WP8's enterprise success as much as consumer adoption, a challenge that will involve compelling hardware as much as WP8 itself.

"Platforms that aren't successful with consumers won't have the demand to be successful in the enterprise," wrote Rege. "Put simply, it's not IT command-and-control; it is IT-user partnership. The old way isn't coming back."

"Apple has made incredible inroads with little work in the enterprise because people want their devices," Morales declared. Similarly, if WP8 becomes popular enough, he said, "the enterprise connection might not matter at all."