Google crossing the line between work and play

Denise Deveau, freelance writer and frequent contributor to InsightaaS
Denise Deveau, freelance writer and frequent contributor to InsightaaS

The launch of Android for Work has grabbed the attention of a lot of CIOs and developers. But is this announcement enough to make Android a strong enterprise play?

Depending on where your inclinations lie, the factors that will determine the success of Android for Work in your environment are many, not the least of which is the business case. And as with all things tech related, that can mean different things to different people.

For the IT community, improved security and device management could very well be the key selling factors. For CFOs and CEOs, productivity and cost gains could be the most compelling adoption motivators. For users themselves, it may well be a matter of personal preference (and product credibility): can users be convinced that their Android device is a bona fide work tool or not?

Given that the Adroid for Work official launch was in February, it’s too early to see how things will play out. But there are a few indications that Android will be able to make some noise where it wasn’t able to before.

Let’s not forget it wasn’t that long ago that the iPhone was dismissed by enterprise leaders as too risky and unmanageable. In the early days, executives were far more comfortable with the BlackBerry model that enabled complete, centrally managed control over devices and apps.

But the consumerization of IT changed all that, and when that happened, the iPhone pushed out BlackBerry as the de facto enterprise mobile platform of choice. That is, once it got around the security concerns by containerizing security within individual apps.

Then Android devices started making inroads with their own app wrapping capabilities, although device fragmentation remained a major stumbling block to widespread enterprise adoption. Every OEM’s device carried its own characteristics in terms of security and management – and given the number of OEMs out there, there were too many variations for IT managers to handle easily.

So despite the fact that consumer adoption for Android smartphones globally stands at 82.3%, Nicholas Barretta, sales engineer for Android, Google Canada anecdotally estimates its share in the enterprise space as comparatively low at about 30 percent.

The BYOD movement

The trend towards consumerization of IT in the workplace has been relentless. According to a 2012 report from McKinsey & Company, 80 percent of smartphones and 67 percent of tablets used in the workplace were employee owned in that year; and 90 percent of workers used smartphones or tablets to do 25 percent of the work they once did on PCs.

In a short time, enterprises have had to transition from corporately mandated models (where qualified employees were assigned their own BlackBerry devices for exclusive enterprise use), to a BYOD world where mobile apps and content have to be managed over multiple operating systems and devices.

BYOD isn’t just a matter of catering to the masses who love to choose their own smartphones and tablets though. It also makes good business sense: Cisco has stated that the net savings enterprises can gain from employee-owned devices could exceed 20 percent; and Gartner flagged BYOD as the number two technology initiative for CIOs in 2013 after business analytics/intelligence.

Rajen Sheth, director of product management, Android for Work,  Google
Rajen Sheth, director of product management, Android for Work, Google

Which is justification enough for Google to play its new hand. The potential for economies of scale are in fact significant for consumer devices of all stripes, said Rajen Sheth, director of product management, Android for Work at Google. “There are up to 200 million managed enterprise devices worldwide; but there are one billion users walking into the workplace with a smartphone in their pocket. Soon it will become just as critical to have a work-enabled smartphone as a laptop.”

Mobile vs. PC

The question now being explored by researchers, vendors and enterprise is: can smartphones and tablets be as crucial to work productivity as the PC was to the previous generation? If so – and given Android’s domination in smartphone adoption on the consumer side – Android for Work has a certain undeniable momentum about it.

Google has taken four steps to push its new agenda. The core piece is logically separating work and personal data on the device. Second is backwards compatibility to Android 4.0; the third is integrating EMM (enterprise mobile management) at the operating system level to create a more easily managed model through partnerships with key EMM players including BlackBerry, AirWatch, Citrix, MaaS360 (IBM), SAP, MobileIron and SOTI. Last but not least is the availability of productivity tools for everyday business tasks, such as email, managing contacts, calendar supports for Exchange and Notes, as well as document editing capabilities via Google Docs, Sheets and Slides apps.

By taking device management deeper than the app containerization approach to the operating system level, Google has allowed personal and work apps to run on the same device simultaneously while ensuring policies and controls are maintained for enterprise apps and data. As a result, IT managers are able to control enterprise content on Android devices from a single pane of glass without impacting personal data. Google argues that this not only improves security; it also lower barriers to entry because app restrictions are already built into productivity tools across all versions of the OS, resulting in additional cost savings.

“Before, corporations couldn’t say they will support Android. What they could say was they will support these devices,” Sheth explained. “Because the separation is now done deep into the operating system level with Android for Work, it’s like logging into the same device as two users so there is more application isolation and more security.”

Isolating apps at the operating system level instead of wrapping apps makes sense, said Gartner VP Ken Dulaney. “Containerization is an unfortunate burden. What you really want is the isolation technology to move down to the operating system; and that’s what Android has done [with versions 4 and 5]. It has adopted a different structure by using the same app binary to store data in two different accounts. With a structural foundation inside the operating system, it really separates the two while avoiding the need to run multiple copies of apps, or different apps to do the same thing.”

While the merits of Google for Work are clear, is it enough to sway enterprises to embrace Android more fully?

Dulaney’s conclusion is that Google has “done a good job” but it remains to be seen if it is enough to disrupt the current state of affairs in enterprises. “It’s well designed, it’s visually attractive, offers great device choices, and offers a lot of features Apple hasn’t touched. And it offers more freedom for management. But it doesn’t mean it can take over Apple usage.”

It could all come down to geography and marketing, he added. “Lots of parts of the world have already embraced Android, but here in North America, Apple is a big thing. It would be hard to pry [those devices] out of people’s hands. It going to take some smart marketing.”

In preaching the Android for Work message, Barretta had this to say: “We want enterprises to say yes to Android. And we wanted to do it in a specific way that isn’t vertical so you don’t have to use Google apps or services. By making it completely horizontal our hope is it will turn Android into a first-class citizen in the enterprise.”

Will the platform neutral, horizontal approach be the key to pushing Google up the ranks? With the vast majority of workers picking and choosing their smartphones, Android for Work means a significant population of Android users can now get exponentially more functionality for their smartphones with IT’s blessing.

If nothing else, it levels the playing field.



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