How (not) to manage apps in an iOS and Android world

As users get apps from an app store, how does IT manage and support them. Guess what? It doesn't

You've accepted the fact that users are working on iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, even if you don't own those units. You've figured out that mobile device management (MDM) tools can secure those items, so your corporate date is safe on them -- at least as secure as it is on PCs.

But what about the apps on those devices? How do you manage them? How do you handle site licenses for them? How do you get enterprise support for them? These are the questions IT admins are now asking.

They won't like the answer: You don't do these things any longer.

[ Learn how to manage iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, and other smartphones in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

Why app management is a legacy approach
I know it's severe heresy for many in IT, but managing apps is addressing the wrong problem. The issue you should be investigating is how to manage your information and the access to it. Way gone are the days that applications and user equipment are safely locked within your four walls and managing them could be a proxy for regulating your data and permissions for it.

The corporate boundaries are permeable, and they have been for some time, as people work at home and on the road, as you use a mix of staff and contractors. The rise of smartphones and tablets has simply made this new reality obvious to all. Any business that protected information by controlling computing devices and their applications -- rather than actually managing that data access at the source -- is now revealed to have been not protecting what's really valuable.

If you think about it, worrying about endpoints is the bad way to tackle information management. This approach is rooted in the mainframe days of IT, when all the real computing action took place in the data center, and users had at most dumb terminal access. When PCs came along, IT fretted about having real information reside on people's desks, and vendors came up with all sorts of technologies to rope those PCs into the data center's controls. Many are sensible, such as encryption and forced sign-in, as they protect the information that is so valuable.

Less sensible, though, are those that treat apps as clients of the data center. Microsoft in particular has been a master of tapping into the IT mentality so that its Office apps are clients of Exchange and other servers. As a result, IT buys site licenses that have expensive maintenance options and require constant attention to make sure the licensing rules are followed as employees come and go. It's a great revenue stream for Microsoft, Adobe Systems, and other similarly inclined vendors, as well as for purveyors of asset-management tools, and it's been a great way to justify IT staff. The inmates and jailers are all collaborating.

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