Enterprise mobility is the trend towards a shift in work habits, with more employees working out of the office. While enterprise mobility can improve employee productivity, it also creates security risks and this is where solution providers come in.

If an organisation’s people are mobile, so is its data. Such is the present state of the enterprise IT landscape. And while it brings a host of benefits, not least in the flexibility and cost-effectiveness enjoyed by corporate users, and the improved productivity they bring to the business, it also sets down a host of challenges – not least ensuring the security of that data.

For their part, in the age of bring your own device (BYOD), users have high expectations when it comes to the actual experience of accessing applications. But with the cloud increasingly used as the de facto platform for storing and sharing data, the enterprise has to balance provision with security.

That means deploying appropriate mobility management strategies, implementing streamlined mobile integration projects and picking the best mobile enterprise application platforms to suit its specific circumstances. And that’s where the channel really has the chance to make a difference.

“The integration of mobile solutions to widen enterprise boundaries requires consultancy, implementation skills, maintenance, integration on an infinite range of devices, and is a fantastic opportunity for the channel,” said Den Sullivan, head of architectures, emerging markets, at network giant Cisco.

Sullivan said that many traditional IT services – including security – are being provided as cloud services in the mobile arena, as players shift away from their core handset/tariff business models. Resellers and systems integrators can capitalise on the opportunity to partner them across the design, architecture and implementation spectrum.

“People are demanding more flexible working environments,” he said. “They come out of university with much higher expectations of access to applications and data, because that’s what they’ve been used to. So it becomes a factor in recruitment and retention. The IT group has to think about how it provides the network infrastructure to deliver on these expectations.

“You need a great network to give your users a great device experience – and increasingly, that involves wireless integration. Resellers must be ready to go into their customers with the skills to optimise wireless coverage and increase bandwidth coverage.”

According to analyst IDC, there will be 30 billion ‘connected’ devices around the world by 2020. Regional statistics in the Middle East reflect this ongoing explosion in user and data mobility. For example, in the UAE, mobile computing already accounts for 73% of mobile internet usage, according to the TNS MENA Annual Mobile Life Report.

Nader Baghdadi, Middle East regional director at vendor Ruckus Wireless, said today’s users typically think of mobile devices as an inclusive technology. Wireless technology allows enterprises to respond by giving them full application access. But this throws up some important challenges.

“For instance, there should be an automated patch management service that manages large mobile deployment on a device-by-device basis,” he said. “The lack of this automated process can be administratively challenging and time-consuming. Additionally, within the scope of securing the organisations themselves, protecting data and devices from unauthorised access can also be challenging, and so it is important to ensure that security measurements are strong enough.”

Plugging the security knowledge gap remains an important lever for the channel. Florian Malecki, EMEA product & solution marketing director at Dell Software, said organisations are grappling with the reality that mobile devices are not only conduits of information flow but, unfortunately, also a delivery vehicle for malware into networks, either inadvertently or intentionally.

“Different security practices apply depending upon whether the mobile devices are connecting from outside or inside the network perimeter,” he said. “Some of the main challenges when it comes to managing and controlling the network are: issues surrounding technical support, employees’ compensation, company usage policies, legal implication, data protection, application management such as what apps are acceptable and what apps are not.”

According to Nicolai Solling, director of technology services at Help AG, the security implications of BYOD offer resellers the chance to educate as well as simply to sell.

“Customers want to reap the benefits of BYOD but in many cases are unaware which solution will meet their specific requirement,” he said. “[But] while it is true that most customers would place security at the top of the list, there are other issues such as network readiness, employee training, integration with well-established business applications, and the development of new mobile-specific applications, which all need to be addressed.

“Currently, being able to understand a customer’s requirements and present the best possible solution is the skill that will benefit resellers in the region. Once the technology is well established and customers are ready and willing to further their investment in BYOD, resellers will have to look at developing specific skills sets, including the in-house development of mobile applications.

“Resellers can work closely with customers to develop corporate app stores which restrict employees to downloading apps that have been scrutinised by the IT department.”

Apart from security, and ensuring that the user experience is consistent across the WAN and LAN, mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAPs) are the glue when it comes to designing and implementing a mobile network (see box).

Taj El-Khayat, general manager, MENA at Riverbed, said that the MEAP works as a centralised system, allowing users to clearly view and track developments on the network, review security threats, introduce new software and consolidate the usability of apps on a selection of devices, regardless of the operating systems.

“There are two main goals of any MEAP service,” he said. “For the mobile and virtual environment of a business to be linked to the corporate network and management software of an enterprise system; and to consolidate and share updates of software and system progression, to be managed and viewed by the enterprise.

“Additionally, businesses are looking for other qualities in a MEAP plan, and we believe these are some of the key factors: consolidation of applications on a single infrastructure; compatibility with device operating systems; improvement of end-user performance; application and website acceleration; cloud integration; and the reduction of downtime risk.”

He said the cloud has significantly opened up the mobile integration market for resellers.

“There is so much more to offer businesses than a stock-standard solution,” he said. “For this reason, resellers can look to support businesses on their needs, and develop platforms and software solutions that are personalised to suit their requirements.

At Ruckus Wireless, Baghdadi said that with an exponential increase in the number of mobile workers expected during the next few years (IDC expects 1.3 billion to be identified as such, globally, by 2015), the cloud will continue to play a major role in allowing them to access company data anywhere and at any time.

“Resellers should respond to this by helping companies to stay ahead of the trends and educating the market on novelties emerging from enterprise mobility,” he said. “With regard to cloud computing, for example, resellers can validate the reliability, security and value of the service to the company choosing to use it, and as a result, expand the market opportunities for a range of cloud computing vendors.”

And with those opportunities comes the chance to build services-driven revenues and boost profit margins. Baghdadi said mobility has already created many sweet spots for the channel, particularly in niche markets and specific applications for vertical markets – principally because they require a high degree of application integration expertise.

“Mobile is one of the four mega trends driving key technology adoption today,” said Riverbed’s El-Khayat. “Adopting mobility in all its forms such as BYOD, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM), creates the need for reshaping the infrastructure and in many cases each segment or solution in the mobility category will be treated as a project on its own.

“This creates opportunities for the channel to introduce infrastructure and security solutions as well as services that will ease the adoption and migration to these technologies while integrating mission critical applications. It is also worth mentioning that the type of channel needed for such transformation is the service-oriented channel, which will enable better margins and a unique value added differentiation in today’s channel landscape. In addition, it may be more suited for the channel to approach this from a consultancy perspective rather than product specific.”

The rise of the mobile enterprise application platform

Gartner describes the Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) as a development and deployment framework that provides tools for the client and the server, and middleware for mobile. It is a crucial element in the integration of mobile with existing infrastructure and the implementation of an enterprise mobility strategy.

According to Nader Baghdadi, Middle East regional director at Ruckus Wireless, the MEAP usually comprises two primary features: a mobile app development environment with back-end Web services that link applications to corporate systems; and a central management tool that administrators can use to control who can access which apps, as well as what systems access which maps.

“A MEAP principally provides an approach to the development and deployment of software for tablets and smartphones (mobile apps), and without a MEAP it is difficult for enterprises to develop [apps] for multiple mobile platforms.”

As Alain Penel, regional vice president for the Middle East region at networking vendor Fortinet, explained, most MEAPS are basically code generators.

“This means the product of their design tool is a piece of code that then needs additional custom coding to run on each supported device,” he said. “This will probably evolve into a true configure-once, run-anywhere platform. TechNavio’s analysts forecast that the global mobile enterprise application platform market will reach $1.6 billion this year. It indicates that the market is currently driven by an increase in demand for enterprise mobility, and probably a lot of changes will appear in the short term in this landscape.”

Key markets for enterprise mobility

In many respects, as Taj El-Khayat, general manager MENA at Riverbed suggested, consumers in general rather than any particular vertical market are driving the demand for enterprise mobility. Their expectations and mobile habits have simply transferred into the corporate world, which has responded accordingly.

“The banking sector has developed its online and mobile presence in recent years, from online banking to smartphone applications,” he said. “However, recent bank hacking cases have provided a security warning to all businesses looking to advance their mobile options.

“Regionally speaking, many of the UAE government entities have established mobile services in place. Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has developed its mobile presence to allow customers to review the billing details, pay outstanding amounts and change personal details online. These services are set to develop in the coming years with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, VP and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai dedicated to having his m-Government project on smartphones by 2015.”

At Ruckus Wireless, Middle East regional director Nader Baghdadi said all industries that have high levels of customer interaction, such as insurance, hospitality, retail or finance, are driving the demand for enterprise mobility. He agreed that utilities and government are also big adopters and influencers.

“The hospitality sector is particularly innovative with its use of mobile applications and integration of BYOD systems,” said Baghdadi. “For example, restaurants are using apps for ordering and delivering food, airlines have apps which can book flights and view terminal maps, and hotels are using tablets to speed up check in/out procedures for guests.”

Then there are niche markets such as video services, which are driving demand for mobile in the education sector, according to Sukhvinder Guraya, regional sales director at Polycom, who cited International Horizons College in Dubai as an example of a collaborative environment enabled by mobility.

“The use of video as a mobility solution means that as faculty and board members are travelling, they can join staff meetings from their laptops, from anywhere,” he said. “The college has recruited an all-American faculty, and being able to lead interviews via video conferences has helped to save time and associated costs.”