Iron-clad mobile security

The impact the coronavirus pandemic continues to have on the enterprise technology world is profound. From the overnight pivot from office to home, to the rapid uptake of cloud and work collaboration services, the way we work has changed dramatically and, quite probably, forever.

IT executives the world over can now probably be split broadly into two camps: those that had already put in place initiatives that have helped their companies to deal with the fall-out of the crisis relatively comfortably, and those that are having to take drastic actions to address operational disruptions and business decline.

Brian Foster, MobileIron’s SVP of Product Management, says some much-needed light humour recently brought the impact of the pandemic on the enterprise world into sharp focus. “I saw a funny meme a few weeks ago that asked the question: ‘What has driven your digital transformation?’ and the options were CEO, CIO and COVID-19, and the person had checked COVID-19,” he tells Digital Bulletin.

MobileIron is a software company that specialises in Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) for enterprise mobile devices, counting the likes of Google, Sky, Nasdaq and Barclays as clients. Its UEM improves data security by taking more information signals into account before granting access to business resources.

Specifically, it validates devices, establishes user context, checks app authorisation, verifies the network, and detects and mitigates threats before allowing access to critical resources, with the promise of a providing secure digital workspace to every user across a company’s mobile enterprise.

It is an area of enterprise security that has become absolutely critical, with unprecedented numbers of workers no longer working on the enterprise network, instead working remotely and accessing applications through a public cloud.

“The last place companies can assert control and visibility is the endpoint itself and because of this, endpoint security and management and the ability to attest to the validity of the user and device is increasingly important,” says Foster.

The pandemic, he believes, has highlighted two areas where enterprise is lacking. “Every company has increased the amount of people working remotely, and there are all sorts of challenges that IT has had to deal with to enable that change,” he comments. “Many had infrastructure and tools that were able to support 10% of their workforce working from home, and all of a sudden they’ve got 80% doing so, so companies have had to upgrade infrastructure.

“Usage of cloud platforms such as Zoom have increased but you don’t actually need to go through an enterprise network to get to the likes of Zoom. The enterprise network has always been a chokepoint for identity, for security, for access control for the enterprise.

“The pandemic has accelerated this notion of realising that we don’t have to put everyone on the enterprise network from their device to the cloud application, but at the same time enterprises have to ensure the new journey is also secure.”

The rapid nature of the pandemic has meant that many companies have been caught flat-footed, left to rue the decision to kick the can down the road when it comes to getting serious about their digital transformations. That remorse will lead to businesses large and small getting their digital affairs in fairly rapid order once things return closer to the norm, reckons Foster.

“We have a lot of on-premise customers that have faced difficulties because they’ve needed to double capacity and they’ve had to physically go to their data centres. That has been painful and they’ve realised that they wouldn’t have had to do any of this if they were in the cloud, it would have scaled automatically,” he says.

“Customers are saying that when this is done they are going to figure out how to get in the cloud quicker, because if there is a second peak they know it is going to be easier working in the cloud than being on-premise. People will come out of this saying that there are better ways to do things and they need to make them a priority, that’s where secure access and edge become really important.”

Foster predicts that growth in take-up of UEM will be split, with large enterprises looking to scale-up their security offering, for example: ensuring that 80% of a workforce is protected by its UEM platform, while smaller businesses – those with less than 2,000 employees – will look to invest in UEM for the first time.

The last place companies can assert control and visibility is the endpoint itself and because of this, endpoint security and management and the ability to attest to the validity of the user and device is increasingly important

Within the mobile security space, the pandemic could also accelerate a shift away from passwords, something that Foster unapologetically labels “evil”, instead leveraging the biometric capabilities of mobiles and tablets for authentication purposes.

This shift towards a passwordless world, he believes, is one of the major trends that will drive the cybersecurity market over the coming years.

“Five years from now, you’ll see enterprises with no passwords at all for their employees, and the trend towards remote working could expedite that time. There are the security costs to passwords, they are phished and we do expect to see an increase with more people working remotely and off mobile devices.

“There is a friction with passwords in general which is a huge IT helpdesk problem with people forgetting them or not changing them. I have travelled a lot during my career and I would get notices from IT that I needed to change my password, but I would wait to do it until I was on the enterprise network, because what if I mess up and lose access to everything when I’m on the road?

“If you think about that friction when people are working remotely, you don’t want to have that friction because it is going to be harder to help them fix it.”

Even before the coronavirus pandemic and the indirect growth it could lead to in UEM spend, the market was predicted to grow rapidly over the next four years, with global revenues set to jump from $3.08 billion in 2020 to almost $7 billion in 2024, according to a report by Global Information Inc.

Within the sector, MobileIron is battling for business with the likes of IBM, Microsoft, VMware and Blackberry. Stiff competition, but Foster believes that his company holds a key advantage over what are some of the biggest names in the enterprise technology world.

“Mobility is really at the heart of what we do, it is how we started,” he says. “A customer recently told me the reason they went for MobileIron rather than Microsoft, for example, was because they want to manage their mobile devices like mobile devices and not like Windows. MobileIron is built for mobility from the ground up and we are specialists in that space.

“It is my belief that customers that view mobility as being central to their enterprise pick MobileIron because we are just better at it than anyone else. Our approach, flexibility and user experience is consistent.”

To this end, MobileIron bolstered its UEM offering in April with the acquisition of incapptic Connect, a leader in mobile automation app release software based in Berlin, Germany and Warsaw, Poland, to accelerate the mobile app release journey for enterprise customers.

MobileIron’s UEM will be integrated with incapptic Connect software to help customers quickly develop, deploy and secure in-house business apps, resulting in increased productivity and business innovation.

“incapptic Connect fits in that UEM market and it provides two opportunities for us; the first is it is very involved in the release of applications, either internal or external mobile applications in the enterprise,” says Foster. “It has always been a partner of ours automating the processes of using our capabilities as well as their own to build this library of enterprise apps, and release them automatically and seamlessly.

“We’ve got a German automotive customer who has over 400 internal apps and every time they release one of those apps, incapptic Connect saves them over 10 days per release cycle by automating some of the workflow and the technical steps on those apps. That company is saving 6,000 days per release of all of their 400 apps, and they release those more than once a year.

“It is the same principle for public store applications, because while you might think that a company only has two public store apps, that company is operating in 40 different languages, so they are releasing to 80 different app stores.”

The acquisition will also provide an opportunity to work with some of the bigger beasts in the UEM market, says Foster.

“incapptic Connect gives us something we can sell to Microsoft UEM or a VMware UEM customer because it works equally well with those UEMs, so is a foot in the door. So that is an opportunity to work with customers that we don’t work with in a UEM capacity to release their apps.”

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