What Makes a Successful Enterprise iOS Strategy?

iPhones and iPads are becoming as ubiquitous in business as khakis. One example is Intermedia, which provides cloud services to small and medium businesses (SMBs). In the first 10 months of 2013, three out of four devices activated by Intermedia customers were running iOS.

That trend is playing out among large enterprises, too. At Good Technology, whose customers include the Fortune 100, 72 percent of activations in Q2 and Q3 2013 were iOS devices.

Some of that adoption is because companies are providing employees with iPads and iPhones, and in other cases it’s because of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. Either way, if your organization doesn’t already support iOS devices, it probably will soon.

So it’s worth looking at what other companies have learned. I recently spoke with Jim Freeland, senior IT manager for enterprise mobility at Medtronic, about how his organization is using and managing iOS devices, as well as the apps that run on them.

Roughly how many iOS devices does Medtronic currently have? And are they all company-issue, or do you have a BYOD policy?

Medtronic has been using iPhones and iPads since mid-2010. iPads were purchased in April for a cardiac conference to allow Medtronic personnel to showcase some product materials. We purchased thousands of iPads over the next 18 months.

Our initial sales tools (apps) were built for the iPhone and iPad throughout the fall of 2010, and [we] have been enhancing and adding to our suite of apps ever since. We have a mix of company-issued and personal iOS devices in place today via our allowance of BYOD. The number of iOS devices used internally has grown significantly, but we do not currently disclose our totals.

How has iOS evolved over that time in terms of making it harder or easier for an enterprise to support those devices? For example, Apple made a few changes to iOS over the past couple of years to make it more enterprise-friendly in terms of device management and security.

iOS as a platform has always been consumer focused, although there are more and more enterprise features being introduced under the hood. With Apple’s closed ecosystem, there are some things traditional IT support will have a hard time dealing with. Things like:

  • The inability to “remote in” to the entire iOS device to support the user.
  • Lack of a file system to backup or fix apps (easily managed via Apple’s iCloud service, and sound custom app development practices).
  • User-generated Apple IDs instead of “enterprise single sign on.”
  • iCloud backup.
  • A heavy mix of personal apps / data on the devices compared to enterprise deployed apps makes things difficult at times.

Enterprises leveraging mobile device management (MDM) continue to walk a fine line in a BYOD setting with what can and can’t be managed on a personal device. Device wipe activities are always a sensitive topic when the device contains personal photos, app data, etc.

There are, on the contrary, many great MDM features that enterprises can exploit within the iOS environment to control the devices. The iOS ecosystem makes it possible to secure apps with secure development techniques and/or MDM controls. The mobile application management (MAM) space continues to mature allowing enterprises to focus security on apps rather than the entire iOS device.

Regarding internal use, mobile apps developed and deployed through private app stores inside the enterprise, Apple’s developer program provides some good controls, as well as some burdensome constraints. These continue to evolve and change. One example is the 365-day expiration of provisioning profiles for enterprise signed mobile apps. Organizations with a large number of internal apps used by a large set of users would endure mass annual app resignings and deployments, burdening the users.

Recently, Apple modified its developer certificate/provisioning profile expiration cadence to allow the enterprise a more graceful path to stagger the required annual update for internal apps. Other new device hardware features make the iOS platform more and more interesting for the enterprise to develop for.

What advice would you give to a CIO or technology manager who’s debating whether to start using iPads and iPhones internally?

By purchasing these devices for your staff, or simply implementing a BYOD program, you instantly obtain productivity gains through users having access to their email, calendar and approved public or internal apps. Extending some of their traditional work tasks to an iPhone or iPad enables them to increase efficiency and timeliness when they don’t necessarily have to boot up their laptop.

Conversely, the iOS platform is still not a replacement for the laptop in the enterprise. iOS devices are very progressive with the apps Apple and other vendors are developing to make them more and more of a contribution devices. Meaning, you can create and edit more and more content on an iOS device, but there are still limitations as it relates to that contribution benefiting enterprise tasks. The iOS devices are sound consumption tools and a great way to communicate with personnel, share content, accomplish workflow and light editing tasks, etc.

The consumerization of IT demands organizations work with these platforms. You can continue to invest in blocking and preventing these tools from being used, pushing users to find covert means to leverage their preferred devices on your network and with your data. Or, you can embrace the iOS platform in a measured way, which allows you to expose specific lines of business through the tools and make selective investments to respond to consumer preferences while gaining efficiency and responsiveness from your staff.