Every week, some company pitches a better way to manage apps or content on mobile devices, but when I look at them I find the usual straitjacketed tools that users would deem too limiting to be worthwhile. They may appeal to security-minded IT folks, but have no chance of gaining adoption in the real world, regardless of any official status they might gain.
So it was a breath of fresh air to see MobileIron's Anyware app and content management service, unveiled today. It treats apps and content as resources to distribute, which sounds like a no-brainer but is not how most organizations approach the issue. Most treat apps and content as resources to limit. That mindset flies in the face of why mobile is so popular: It lets people get stuff done almost anywhere -- which can't happen when devices and content are turned into locked-down fortresses.
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MobileIron is well known for its mobile device management (MDM) server tools, and it provides locked-down application management tools -- similar to what's provided by main rivals Good Technology and AirWatch. MDM has become a "been there, done that" item for most companies, whereas application management and content management tools have largely foundered due to highly proprietary approaches designed to limit apps and content.
The fresh thinking in Anyware centers around the notion of enablement. Yes, you get all the policy restrictions you might want, but you apply them sensibly in a tiered-security model in service of getting the right tools and content to workers. For example, IT sets the device security policies and configuration profiles, as in any competent MDM tool, and it can handle the app and content distribution. But IT can also delegate distribution rights (based on policies, not as a free-for-all) to business managers for content and apps.
That just makes sense: After all, a sales manager will decide what documents her sales team should get, not an IT admin. And why have an IT admin execute the sales manager's wishes? That adds labor and delays to what should be a straightforward business decision. Within the security parameters set up by IT, that sales manager can also apply access rights, such as disallowing editing of specific files or classes of files, or disallowing copy and paste of content, again based on class, role, or other parameters.
But that manager can also enable her team to work on documents, such as updating PowerPoint presentations or commenting on territory reports. That's a far cry from the content controls I typically see, which create read-only document repositories managed by IT, or extend existing ones such as SharePoint repositories to devices like those running OS X, iOS, and Android that Microsoft doesn't truly support.