Spotlight: Enterprise Mobility

Enterprise mobility 2023: UEM meets DEX

With remote and hybrid work here to stay, unified endpoint management platforms are offering digital employee experience features, stronger integration with endpoint security tools, and greater automation.

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2020: In a pandemic, UEM to the rescue

Enterprise mobility has taken on a whole new meaning during the past several months. Working remotely has become the norm, which means users are relying on a range of devices and apps like never before.

Some key questions for IT leaders to consider: What impact are the changes brought on by the pandemic and resulting economic downturn likely to have on mobile technology going forward? And how can enterprise mobility strategies and tools help organizations, both now and in the long run?

Accelerating UEM

One major mobility trend that will likely continue is the rise of unified endpoint management (UEM), a strategic approach that unifies and centralizes the way organizations manage their deployed devices, including phones, tablets, PCs and even Internet of Things (IoT) devices. It’s a logical extension of mobile management tools that started with mobile device management (MDM), incorporated mobile application management (MAM), and expanded through enterprise mobility management (EMM) platforms. UEM offers a comprehensive approach to managing devices in the enterprise.

Having vastly more stay-at-home workers, combined with curtailed IT budgets, will accelerate the trend toward UEM, says Chris Silva, vice president and analyst at Gartner. The firm has revised its guidance around the importance and timing of UEM from a key program to consider in 2020 to a project that should already be underway.

The older device management tools at many organizations, which rely on centralized imaging and patch management, “present significant challenges as workers remain remote and cannot access physical work locations,” Silva says. “We have already seen more rapid adaptation to supporting remote work in organizations where a UEM tool is in place for PC management.”

Forrester Research is seeing a big acceleration in cloud-based technologies as result of the work-at-home transition. “Some of this is definitely UEM, particularly when it comes to enrolling personally owned laptops into management software to access corporate resources,” says Andrew Hewitt, a researcher at the firm.

“I've also been talking to a number of clients that are increasing cloud-based desktop and app virtualization to deal with this transition overall,” Hewitt says. “It's an alternative approach which can also work for personally owned devices, especially for banks and other regulated industries. Overall, I see increases across the board in different types of EUC [end user computing] technologies, but the common factor is that they're almost always cloud versions.”

Stepping up remote security

With so many employees working remotely and likely to be doing so for some time, security and user support are high priorities for enterprise mobility.

“It is important that employees have the tools and resources they need to securely work in a more fluid fashion — both in and away from the traditional office environment,” says Adam Holtby, principal analyst at Omdia.

“Mobility management platforms will be an important piece of the remote work puzzle, enabling businesses to secure the use of mobile devices and apps.”

Many businesses had already made effective remote working a reality prior to the pandemic, but typically only for small numbers of people and with slow rollouts, Holtby says. “The sudden huge shift to remote working means businesses have had to act quickly to help employees work from home, but they need to do it in a way that is productive, familiar, and secure,” he says.

Mobility management platforms can help secure against employee behaviors that could put sensitive business data and information at risk, Holtby says.

“For example, if no secure file-sharing options exist, or if they are not well understood, employees may start sending sensitive data over personal email or may save sensitive documents on local device drives,” Holtby says. “Mobility management tools help ensure that only devices compliant with data protection policies can access sensitive work files. Saving work only to a trusted cloud store location is something that can be enforced, using the policy engines many managed mobility solutions offer.”

Some companies are reexamining their authentication strategies and asking if there's an easier way to establish identity and grant access to work applications than password-centric models, Hewitt says. “Things like digital certificates, biometrics, and 2FA [two-factor authentication] are top of mind for many organizations that didn't previously have remote work,” he says.

The use of behavioral analytics for security is intriguing in a remote environment, Hewitt says, although there does not seem to be much deployment yet. There is a big opportunity for technology such as artificial intelligence/machine learning to determine where an employee’s house is located and provide more frictionless access to enterprise resources when the user is in that location, he says.

“Some companies have also been talking about using finger swipes to identify people when they are in the application — not biometric, but the actual gestures they make with their fingers while scrolling, clicking, etc.,” Hewitt says. “It's an intriguing capability in a remote setting, because you're better able to identify who is really using a device.”

In addition to security, organizations will need to ensure they are effectively supporting mobile users. “IT support practices and processes will need to evolve and ‘mobilize’ in better meeting the needs of a more remote workforce,” Holtby says. “Traditional IT support will need to ensure systems and support mechanisms are accessible and optimized for use by the mobile worker.”

Modernizing mobility strategies for long-term success

Experts say enterprise mobility strategies and tools can help organizations get through the short-term challenges they are facing — including the work-at-home model — as well as thrive in the long run.

“Enterprise mobility helps keep the business afloat,” Hewitt says. “Simply put, without a mobility strategy you're going to have to keep people in the office. And with so many regulations out there forbidding that, it basically means you're out of business. The fact is, every organization is going to need to build a mobility strategy going forward for workforce continuity reasons.”

Modernizing endpoint management tools from older systems to UEM, deploying management models for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs, and using tools to support any mobile platform will become key components of mobility strategies, Silva says.

“An outgrowth of this is likely the increased mastery of using analytics data to drive continual improvement, [evaluating] actual usage and performance data to drive decisions on what new tools, systems, and applications [should] come into the digital workplace portfolio,” Silva says.

In the long run, mobility offers an opportunity to provide more flexible workstyles that can be used to attract and retain talent, Hewitt says. “Many organizations I've talked to feel they haven't seen a drop in productivity as a result of moving people remote, so now they're wondering how to formalize their workplace flexibility strategy to drive additional benefits beyond workforce continuity.”

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