As more and more people are working remotely, enterprises are faced with the challenge of how best to securely share corporate data and apps with hundreds, even thousands of mobile office workers.
It's not easy. There are a growing number of mobile devices and platforms used by employees and contractors who roam from one PC to another -- some using managed PCs in the office and others using smartphones or wireless hotspots in coffee shops and airports.
Indeed, extending remote access across a wide range of endpoints can be a headache for mobile IT. Passwords, log in credentials, and sensitive files can be left behind on untrusted devices at the end of a remote access session, making these solutions insecure and difficult to manage.
In addition, the world has seen several recent cases where organizations have been challenged with safeguarding critical data and maintaining the flow of business in the wake of natural disaster and crisis, including the outbreak of H1N1 and the volcanic eruption in Iceland. Such events have recently forced firms to review their business continuity plans to ensure they will accommodate a wider range of worse-case scenarios.
To find out some of the best ways to share corporate data and mobile apps with mobile workers, we spoke with two experts on the topic, Ben Khoushy and Willie Jow.
Khoushy is vice president of endpoint solutions at Check Point Software Technologies
. Jow is vice president for business operations and mobility product marketing, Sybase
Mobile management tip 1: Use flash drives for mobile security
Today, new generations of flash drives are becoming a cost-efficient way for businesses to enable their mobile office workers to access the network securely, said Khoushy.
For example, Check Point Abra
integrates a VPN connection for remote access to the corporate network with on-board, automated hardware encryption to secure stored data against loss or theft.
"Users can simply insert the device in any PC or laptop, from any location, enter their log in and password, and begin working as if they were in their regular office environment," said Khoushy.
Mobile management tip 2: Think beyond email and calendaring
Email and calendaring are the low-hanging fruit for enterprise mobility.
"They're immensely useful and probably account for a huge amount of communications," said Jow.
Beyond email, there is a lot of data and apps that companies should be striving to make more usable and accessible to their employees, he said.
"After horizontal apps such as email and calendaring, be strategic about what apps and data you take to smartphones and tablets, and to whom," Jow added.
For most companies, mobilizing customer relationship management (CRM) for their sales force should be next after email and calendaring, Jow said.
"Salespeople are your primary foot soldiers in the vendor battlefield," he said. "Arming them with the best weapons (such as Sybase Mobile Sales for SAP CRM) should be a top priority, so that they can call on more prospects while equipped with better information, turning them into 'closers.'"
Mobile management tip 3: Check the mobile app stores for mobile access solutions
Employees who want mobile access to their company's intranet, corporate email and business applications, can easily visit an app store and download a mobile access app, said Khoushy.
He noted that the best ones require people to enter a log in and password, but in return they gain immediate access to their corporate resources.
"It's fast, easy, and provides one-touch access to the business applications they need," said Khoushy.
"Thanks to integrated SSL VPN and encryption technologies, IT administrators can allow personal devices to connect to the network with confidence -- knowing these technologies are protecting against security threats all the way from the gateway to the endpoint," he said.
Mobile management tip 4: Don't forget about workflow apps
These can be apps that let managers approve expenses from their BlackBerry or iPhone, or ones that let warehouse workers approve shipments faster, said Jow.
"Unlike CRM, the opportunities to tweak workflow platforms are limited only by the company's imagination," he said. "That's what makes them so exciting."
Closely related to workflow are mobile HR apps, which let managers recruit, schedule and train employees via their smartphone.
Jow said some apps let employees and managers record time in/out and also requests for leave and travel via an easy-to-use interface on iPhones, Windows Mobile and Nokia smartphones.
Mobile management tip 5: Embrace tablets and dashboards
"Do you want to stop having Dilbert-like meetings?" asked Jow. "Arming your executives with tablets running analytic dashboards could soon be the answer. These tools will drastically improve collaboration and the speed and quality of decision-making."
Jow said solutions exist today, but they tend at best to offer limited access to data that is not always the freshest.
"Coming soon, though, will be dashboards that will offer real-time, 360-degree views into what's happening in your enterprise," he said.