Android invades the enterprise

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How three companies are coping -- even thriving -- amid the Android explosion.

As the little green robot known as Android wends its way into the enterprise, it's teaching useful lessons that are reshaping corporate attitudes toward the BYOD movement.

Analysts and CIOs say the multifaceted nature of the mobile operating system is forcing companies to make key decisions about what they will, and won't, control in bring-your-own-device programs -- and those decisions are in turn cascading across all operating systems and devices.

While Google's operating system has far surpassed Apple's iOS in worldwide mobile market share -- Android had more than 79% of the smartphone market in the second quarter of 2013, while iOS fell to 13%, according to IDC -- Apple still dominates the enterprise. According to a June 2013 activation report from mobile software maker Good Technology, 75% of the mobile activations at Good's Fortune 500 clients were for iOS devices.

Tackling Tough Questions

Most enterprises treat Android tentatively, at least at first. They'll start by allowing a limited number of devices and operating system versions and only allow access to email. That reduces the risk and gives IT a chance to work through thorny questions as they arise, says Bob Egan, CEO and founder of Sepharim Group, a mobile enterprise consultancy. "You have company email and personal email, so it starts the process of thinking about things like privacy and support," he says. "You have to start educating users, changing your IT support processes and building in policies."

Egan adds that this learning applies to more platforms than just Android. As IT gains experience, it will ultimately figure out how to protect enterprise applications and data regardless of which mobile platform is used. "Android is perhaps the poster child that is driving IT to wise up and decide that it should trust nothing," he says.

To impose some order on the chaos, Starz recently adopted a new program under which employees can use either corporate-owned or personal devices. Batenburg calls the approach "managed diversity." (Both the concept and the term come from Gartner, she says.) The new policy gives employees a say over their mobile devices, but also provides a way for IT to control costs and rein in confusion.

The program consists of three categories: corporate-liable, shared liability and true BYOD. Employees are placed in one of the categories based on their jobs. Executives and road warriors -- those who are highly mobile and/or highly dependent on a mobile device -- are in the corporate-liable category and are eligible for company-issued phones.

Batenburg doesn't expect Android devices to predominate, even in the BYOD group. Perhaps because Starz is in the entertainment industry, where Apple products have always ruled, iPhones are far more popular. "The novelty of the Androids wore off," she says. "We're seeing less interest in those."

But if more Androids do come, Batenburg is ready. The segmented approach allows full support for employees who most rely on their mobile devices, while freeing the company from having to support a multitude of devices.

Batenburg's advice to others confronting an Android invasion is to standardize. "Pick a vendor and a couple of devices and say, 'This is what we'll support,'" she says. "If they want anything else, they are responsible for their own device."

Rothenberger says he hasn't experienced many problems with the diversity of Android versions. Most of the Android devices get automatically updated on a regular basis, either by the manufacturer or the carrier, who thoroughly vet the software before pushing it out to users, he points out. Ricoh Americas seems content to leave it at that. The degree to which fragmentation causes problems for IT "depends on how much the company is trying to control versus how much they are letting the users control," he observes.

That said, there are occasional challenges with Android. When the company develops its own internal apps, for example, IT has to ensure they run securely across all Android versions, says Rothenberger. "But it's not something that adds significant cost or time to our project deployments," he says. If there's a problem, IT decides whether it's easier to fix it or simply tell users that it won't work on a particular version of Android. "I can only remember one or two situations where we had to tell them an app was not appropriate for a particular version of Android," says Rothenberger.

Meanwhile, the company is replacing complicated enterprise applications with simpler, perhaps cloud-based, software, Rothenberger says. The BYOD program and the move to simpler applications are both components in a broader consumerization of IT strategy at Ricoh Americas, he says.

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