As enterprise mobility and the technology behind it continues to evolve, new trends are always on the rise. 2016 saw the emergence of new phones like the Google Pixel, which offers remarkably fast charging capabilities, a realignment by BlackBerry to a stronger and smarter focus on services, and a better focus on mobile app security through collaborative endeavors such as the AppConfig Community, which seeks to standardize mobile app development techniques. More and more business apps are also being ported to mobile devices, freeing users from the limitations of traditional desktops/laptops.
What's ahead for enterprise mobility this year? I discussed the topic with Mitch Black, president of MOBI, regarding what he sees as the leading trends leading into 2017 for mobility in the enterprise.
TechRepublic: What do you think will be the most significant factor in enterprise mobility space?
Mitch Black: "Buying network airtime will decouple users from having to buy a particular device. The business model of a commitment to network services cross-subsidizing a mobile device will fade. We are all accustomed to this model, but think about how unusual it is. The network subsidy model would be akin to Exxon Mobil funding the purchase of your car, provided you buy gas from them for two years. It is also worth pointing out that this business model is prevalent in the United States but less common outside the US.
But, entrenched business models die hard. Even though the mobile carriers want to get out of the device business, they can't help but hitch their network service to the next flashy device. Nevertheless, look for the purchase of the device and the network to decouple. This will give businesses more degrees of freedom in optimizing their mobility platform, however, the procurement process will be more complex. Businesses will have to develop sources other than the carriers to purchase devices. In addition, new suppliers will emerge who will combine the network and the device."
TR: IoT seems to be all over the news as of late. What do you anticipate in terms of IoT developments or growth in 2017?
MB: "Although the potential size of the market is often hyped, line of business deployment continues. IoT enables entities (i.e. consumers, businesses, and governments) to connect to, and control, their IoT devices including energy, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture and more. One of the primary goals of IoT deployment is to collect data.
This will add another level of complexity for IT leaders to manage and support within the enterprise. In addition to increased security requirements, cellular-enabled or back-up devices require further support related to usage and connectivity with wireless carriers."
TR: Business analytics is another hot topic we've covered extensively on TechRepublic. What can you tell us about that space and how it will relate to enterprise mobility this year?
MB: "In addition to the analytics that IoT provides, think about how long call detail records have been provided to businesses by carriers. Yet this rich source of data has been confined to telecom analysis and has not graduated to business analytics. Look for that to change. Usage patterns associated with mobile networks will be correlated with specific aspects of business success. Call detail records will be the next rich vein for data mining to feed business analytics. Better business decisions (not just better telecom spend) will come from call records."
TR: Enterprise mobility is more than just devices and services; it also applies to carriers. What's ahead in terms of mobile data networks?
MB: "This seems contradictory, but mobile data networks will become relevant for stationary devices. IoT often means connecting devices that are not on the LAN and beyond the reach of a WLAN. The cost to network-enable simple devices is dropping. Instead of optimizing around speed, an IoT processor can be optimized around cost. In terms of network connectivity, those components can also be optimized around cost since IoT communication tends to require little bandwidth and is tolerant of network latency. Service providers are recognizing IoT as a sub-market and are beginning to offer usage plans built around the nature of IoT traffic.
All of this adds up to a more favorable set of economic conditions for the deployment of IoT. This means stationary devices will become relevant for mobile data networks. These networks are relevant for IoT not because they can maintain a persistent connection as a device moves, but rather because the reach is ubiquitous."
TR: As a system administrator, a common complaint I see from my users is that apps run poorly. This is especially rampant among mobile apps, which of course are often limited to or constrained by mobile signal quality. What can we expect to see in terms of mobile app performance?
MB: "As fascinated as we are by our mobile apps, in the future they will seem clunky and incomplete. In 2017, advances will be made in mobile apps for business. For starters, look for mobile apps to simply load better, irrespective of network connectivity. When the device is connected, the app won't just be serving the user's present needs, but it will also take steps to serve the user when offline. Even when the user is not interacting with the app, it will be busy updating behind the scenes when connected to the network. All of this advancement will mean mobile apps will be useful even without a network connection.
In addition, look for mobile apps to have a deeper integration with the device OS. This means an app will operate in new ways with the device's microphone, camera, and other basic elements. For example, apps will have a range of reactions to the power level on the device."
TR: In terms of app functionality itself, what do you think will be new or different on the mobile app market in 2017?
MB: "Location-based business apps. Add location awareness to a consumer app and you get something completely different. There is a world of difference between match.com and Tinder. Both apps involve meeting someone new, but Tinder's focus on proximity makes the purpose of meeting altogether different. Location-based mobile apps used by consumers are less common with B2B apps.
Look for business apps that serve the mobile worker to be enhanced with location awareness. Concur's Tripit, for example, could add location awareness and alert the user when it is time to depart for a flight."
TR: My company has been using Exchange-based mobile device management (MDM) controls for years, and these have served us fairly well, but I'd like to get more out of an MDM solution. What new advances will be made there?
MB: "Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) will grow further. The fade out of Blackberry coupled with the rise of IoS and Android for business created a new market for device security. Successful companies such as AirWatch and MobileIron stepped in and filled this need with device-based software known as MDM, now EMM.
The MDM market will mature and, as with most maturing markets, specialization will take place. Feature-rich MDM solutions will occupy the market along with simple, less costly solutions. Companies will likely deploy multiple MDM solutions, selecting a solution based on the application and cost. MDM will also expand out beyond the smartphone. Look for MDM solutions to go up market to more expensive devices, such as laptop computers, and down market to simpler devices involved in IoT.
MDM will be less isolated and more tightly coupled with broader solutions. AirWatch is already part of VMware's Workspace ONE, Microsoft Intune is integral to the Office 365 solution, and MaaS 360 is part of IBM's MobilityFirst solution. Ultimately, an enterprise will have a variety of MDM or MDM-like solutions operating across a variety of computing platforms."
TR: I also want to talk about that magic word 'convergence.' While many definitions exist, in this context I mean using apps across devices, streamlining app and device deployment across a single channel or methodology and reducing overall complexity. Where do you see convergence heading?
MB: "IT departments continue to seek control and more effective management of legacy computing devices that blur into mobility. Examples include MacBooks, which require enrollment in DEP and utilize EMM for device management, and Surface Pros, which require connectivity with LTE networks."
There is now an additional level of support required for end users if the device requires a cellular connection. Furthermore, MacBooks that are enrolled into DEP and utilize the EMM for device management emulate similar support requirements for iPads and iPhones."
The top 10 mobile risks of 2016
Experts predict 2017's biggest cybersecurity threats
Privacy concerns about IoT devices won't be assuaged soon
How to secure your IoT devices from botnets and other threats
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.