There's little doubt that the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend with smartphones and tablets has rattled a lot of nerves for IT managers.
The situation will only get more nerve-wracking in 2014 because of the 30% annual growth through 2017 expected for smartphones purchased under a BYOD approach, and the further emergence of Windows Phone as a third platform behind Android and iOS.
Businesses are concerned about supporting three smartphone platforms, and while HTML 5 was expected to solve the headaches of supporting multiple platforms, HTML 5 just has not progressed fast enough, "leaving IT managers to wrestle with issues related to cross-platform applications," research firm IDC wrote in a note earlier this month.
"Trying to support all these devices and manage them along with end user problems is a nightmare, and a lot still has to be ironed out," IDC analyst Will Stofega said in a telephone interview on Monday.
One emerging method for clamping down on employee access to sensitive corporate data is geo-fencing, Stofega said. With geo-fencing, an employee with a BYOD device might only be able to access some less-sensitive corporate apps at a certain distance from a secured building. Geo-fencing for security "could be an elegant and simple way to solve problems," Stofega said.
IDC predicts that 175 million workers globally will bring their own smartphones to work in 2014, up from 132 million in 2013 and far above the 88 million in 2012. By 2017, the number will reach 328 million, IDC said in its latest forecast.
Those BYOD numbers are for smartphones purchased by workers, usually from a list of company-approved phones. For companies that purchase phones for their workers, the numbers will also increase at an 11% annual growth rate, increasing from 61 million in 2013 to 69 million in 2014, and up to 88 million in 2017.
IDC said in its January predictions that the current era of platform diversity across devices, including desktops, tablets and smartphones, will gradually come to a close and will be replaced by a "common platform approach across all devices that incorporate a variety of applications."
Key to this happening will be the emergence of the Windows operating system used across devices. "We believe that despite the missteps made by Microsoft in the past, its purchase of Nokia, coupled with Office, SkyDrive and the Windows OS, can deliver a true multimodal experience, helping users transition seamlessly from home to work," IDC said. "...Microsoft must work quickly to create a common code base that runs across all devices."
Stofega said that Microsoft Office is a big driver for the eventual success of Windows as a common platform. "Office is what students are trained in, but there is something happening there in terms of how Office will be coupled with the cloud through SkyDrive [now to be called OneDrive], IT managers tell me."
Windows tablets will also benefit from the apps that are already commonplace in enterprises, such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, Stofega said.
"What's going to need to start to happen at Microsoft is that it hits that unified code base to all IT managers for one set of apps across a number of form factors," Stofega added.
But the burden on Microsoft is still great, and IDC recognizes that in its forecast.
Android devices will make up 111 million of the 175 million BYOD smartphones shipped in 2014, IDC said. Apple's iOS devices will make up 52 million and devices running Windows Phone will comprise just 9.9 million, jumping to 38 million in 2017, IDC recently forecast. IDC gave much smaller portions of the market to minor smartphone OSes such as Tizen, Linux, Firefox and BlackBerry.
Other analysts, including Patrick Moorhead at Moor Insight & Strategy, said Android is seen as becoming more enterprise secure, posing a challenge to any future possibilities for Windows.
"The aperture for Microsoft to capture uplift in enterprise Windows phones is rapidly narrowing as Android is becoming more enterprise-worthy," Moorhead said. "For Microsoft to fully take advantage of this opportunity, they need to immediately accelerate their linkages between Windows Phone, Outlook, Exchange, SharePoint, Yammer and Skype."
This article, With BYOD smartphones on the rise, IT headaches will become migraines, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.