Why a Mobile IT Platform Matters

Sean Convery
Sean Convery | January 03, 2014
Mobile Strategy

As you’d expect, we're spending a lot of time talking to customers as we finish out the year. Many of them are making plans to further ramp up their Mobile IT deployment in 2014 and they are making investments now. We're always interested in the specifics of their deployments but if we’ve heard one thing consistently this year, it is the central role played by our integrations with other mobile solutions. Our AppConnect client ecosystem now contains more than 50 apps with well over 100 more in development. But we’re just as proud of our back-end APIs that enable not just existing infrastructure players like Cisco, Juniper, and Aruba to add value, but also innovative solutions like AppThority, Veracode, and FireEye.

By way of example, let’s talk content.

If ever there was a mobile space that cried out for an ecosystem, it is content. Just look at the market for starters. There are sixteen players in Gartner’s latest round up on just the file sync space alone. And that doesn’t even include folks like Microsoft or any of the dozens of startups innovating in other areas of content.

You see, content is absolutely core to everything you’ll do with your mobile device in the future. Apple, Google, and Microsoft are about to enter a battle royale with users as the ultimate victor. We’re also not counting out the new vendors in the space: in fact we’re ecstatic that so many start-ups in the content space are integrating with our platform. Ultimately the office format itself will see some dramatic changes as the industry shifts to mobile as the primary computing platform. Just imagine trying to go through a word file with tracked changes on your iPhone, blech! Here is the story Evernote told its customers at their recent EC3 conference, and Quip is telling now through their delivery of a mobile first word processor: The office format is too complex for mobile. Heck, you could argue it was too complex for the PC but that’s another blog post.

If you haven’t done this lately, download a few of the office editors that are on the market now for your iPad or Android tablet and open up a moderately complex Powerpoint file. Now go into slideshow view and imagine presenting the material. Didn’t render quite the way you wanted, did it? And rendering is the easy part. What if you wanted to make significant changes while mobile? You see while we at MobileIron believe strongly that the field sales force of the future will be run on mobile devices, providing pixel perfect rendering and reliable editing of your existing office material is a ways away. I’ve done a ton of presentations from a mobile device but I use PDF because I need to count on great rendering. Even Microsoft is struggling though anyone who thinks Microsoft is content to let others feast on their cash cow for long is crazy. For now, it is no surprise that some of the best editors today are the major MobileOS vendors themselves with Apple’s iWork suite and Google’s Quickoffice. By the way, Quickoffice is completely free (though requires a Google Drive account) and iWork is now free on all new iOS devices.

This is why we’ve added document annotation to our Docs@Work solution on iOS. Instead of trying to solve document editing and competing with the many partners we’re working with in the space, we focused on the primary problem we heard from our customers: "Let me easily and securely use my mobile device to comment on a file a colleague sent me for review.” As always, our customers have an ability to cut through buzz-words and clutter to tell us what they really need. So we built what they asked for. We automatically live-convert office files to PDF, and then let you use all the great capabilities of PDF document annotation: highlights, strike-through, shapes, comments, questions, etc. all in a format that you can send back to the author and they can view in their PDF reader on their mobile device or on their laptop.

All that great annotation capability is now paired with the on-prem file access we provide through Sharepoint, WebDAV, and CIFS and our AppConnect framework that lets you authenticate to corporate apps, securely hand off files to other applications on your mobile device, and prevent data leakage to unmanaged applications. And if you have a use case for document editing on your mobile device, great! We’ve got editors in the ecosystem that we’re already working with and of course things like iWork can be installed as a managed app via iOS 7. And we’re not stopping there.

Ultimately the onslaught of consumer content solutions and file sync services will be impossible to keep at bay. Dropbox boasts 200 million users and integrates with a ton of useful applications that are worming their way into our daily lives. If you are still thinking of Dropbox as enemy number one in your enterprise, eventually trying to block access will just lead to less security as your employees keep their mobile devices at their side, but off your corporate network and outside of your control. It has to be about more than just providing a enterprise managed alternative to Dropbox as shadow IT has never been easier for your employees to embrace and has never been harder for you to prevent.

The same forces that created the BYOD wave are not just going to stop with the device but extend to cloud services and applications. But that, also, is another blog post. At MobileIron we want to give you the infrastructure to say “Yes” to your users which ultimately gives you more effective security. For a clue as to our direction here, take a look at what we’ve already done with Salesforce.

This is why a Mobile IT Platform matters; it allows the entire industry of innovation to be leveraged by our customers around the world. This ecosystem is part of our core mission: enabling the next-generation of productivity by embracing user choicewith IT control.

IT teams have known for a long time that choice without control leads to chaos but Mobile is teaching us that the opposite is just as bad. Control without choice is a remnant of PC management and not only will lead to lower security; it also robs you of the very productivity gains mobile promises to deliver.

In closing, while there’s plenty of work to do in continuing to be the most robust and scalable MobileIT platform on the market, we're aligning ourselves with the mindset of IT shops focused on building out mobile first solutions. Their primary question is, “As my mobile strategy expands (into content), do I have a platform and ecosystem to support the pace and expectations of my mobile workforce?” We want to keep our laser focus on the platform, not on claiming to check every box on an RFP. The checkbox that’s most important to us is the one always implied but rarely explicitly asked: “Can I depend on your product, integrate it with the rest of my IT infrastructure, and deploy it with confidence?” Check, check, and check.