More employees are working outside the office today, using mobile devices to access data from applications and create new files from that data just as easily.
The challenge here is how to keep track of all that data over time. Are new files being saved centrally, or are they just living on laptops?
Data on laptops or tablets should be protected just like any centrally held files for business continuity. And any personally identifiable information (PII) on these mobile devices should be managed and protected, just as it would be if it were used on corporate PCs in the office.
If this is not in place, then compliance programmes can be jeopardised. There is a huge obligation on companies to ensure proper stewardship of any information on customers over time.
‘This is not just about continuity,’ says Rick Powles, EMEA VP at Druva. ‘It’s a huge threat to the company if any customer data is compromised. At the same time, the growth of mobile and edge computing makes it increasingly difficult to ensure that proper protections are in place to avoid these compromises taking place.’
The past few years have seen a shift in usage around mobile collaboration technologies across the business world. Whether it’s applications offering document sharing, video conferencing or text communication, mobile is making things quicker and more flexible.
Mobile collaboration tools are now aimed at both the consumer and the worker. Take WhatsApp, for example, an app with over a billion users that was once seen as a piece of consumer tech but is now used by businesses to target customers and grow sales.
However, one of the major changes that has taken place has been around voice and the way people and businesses use it.
‘Traditionally, we have used mobiles to make phone calls,’ says James Campanini, VP and GM EMEA at Blue Jeans. ‘However, more and more people are using their phones for video calls, enabling them to bring meetings to them, cut down travel time and in some cases do face-to-face meetings on the move.
‘This is an extremely powerful collaboration tool, and one that is only going to be used more and more over the coming months.’
The technologies around mobile collaboration have become far slicker. Issues recognising different devices, editing varying formats and even doing so in real-time, on account of lower internet speeds, are a thing of the past.
In some cases, ‘mobile’ meant ‘on the move’, such as a laptop, rather than a true handset experience found on smartphones or tablets. These days, the technology has become ubiquitous and much more professional.
Many business people take just their mobile with them on business trips, not needing any further technology to do their jobs.
‘This is the best description of how mobile collaboration has changed: people are now comfortable enough to do their jobs on them,’ says Rob Keenan, head of portfolio readiness and growth, UK and EMEAR, at Unify. ‘In other words, they have become more reliable.’
Today, collaboration is less a vision and more a practical reality. From an architectural strategy perspective, models such as ‘mobile first’, bring your own device (BYOD) and choose your own device (CYOD) are becoming more prevalent.
Much of the mobile collaboration in the UK is enabled by consumer-focused technologies – such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare – which have given rise to robust and business-oriented counterparts that offer audio, video, file sharing and workflow integration.
These include enterprise applications such as Microsoft’s Yammer, Skype for Business and OneDrive, Dropbox for Business, WhatsApp, Slack and Socialcast.
These technologies encourage the creation of communities, sharing ideas, easily finding people and information, collaboration and faster decision-making.
‘Mobile collaboration applications will make their way into more and more organisations this year, allowing end users to work together seamlessly from different geographies, and at different times of the day,’ says Jim Barrett, head of end user computing at Dimension Data.
Mobile collaboration is a rapidly evolving industry, and organisations are continuing to introduce models and processes that support its ideologies.
According to VMware research, although 85% of organisations have enabled basic individual productivity applications like email and office software suites, only some 17% of global companies have so far shifted a core business process in its entirety to a fully collaborative mobile model.
However, two-thirds of all organisations surveyed were actively engaged in making this transition to collaborative mobility – and nearly every respondent had the intent to shift its core business to a collaborative mobile model.
‘This means that there is real and sustainable competitive advantage to be gained by those who act quickly,’ says Garry Owen, senior product marketing manager for end user computing, EMEA, at VMware.
One of the major benefits of implementing mobile collaboration tools is that they can save organisations a lot of money.
In the past, businesses had to rely on clunky hardware to enable connectivity throughout the company, which required large amounts of storage space as well as regular maintenance.
Another benefit is that it dramatically improves collaboration between clients, colleagues and customers.
‘There are continued developments in mobile collaboration technologies, which are improving business engagement all the time,’ says Campanini. ‘A recent example of this is the advancements in technological interoperability that have helped employees to communicate easily via video chat across whichever device they prefer.’
Despite the clear benefits associated with mobile collaboration in the enterprise, one of the main challenges is that products are often adopted by a workforce via a bring-your-own-app (BYOA) approach.
While traditional collaboration tools are bought by IT professionals, actual front-line users (developers, sales teams, etc) find that other apps suit their needs better. The technical challenge within the BYOA paradigm in businesses is how to connect them to the corporate security system and the policies to secure sensitive data.
But in the new work environment, user choice and personal productivity can only be enhanced by BYOA.
‘The most successful companies will be those that can successfully marry BYOA and business security,’ says Stephen Duignan, VP of global marketing at LogMeIn. ‘A simple, effective first step is multi-factor authentication.’
Starting from scratch
Another challenge is that today’s networks often still cater for yesterday’s traffic, so a stronger move to a mobile-friendly network across the whole business will have to become a more urgent requirement.
Some businesses and industries may even feel compelled to completely redesign themselves from the bottom up using a mobile-first approach.
However, to take full advantage of mobility, the underlying architecture requires re-engineering, which would then enable more seamless business process redesign.
There is a significant shift in organisations that traditionally had to rely on corporate approval and IT to deploy any type of new technology. The costs used to be high and the deployments complicated, but not any more.
‘What business units often lose sight of,’ says Barrett, ‘is the impact this might have on the corporate networking infrastructure, which may not be able to handle the increase and difference in the data generated by cloud-based applications.
‘Getting IT and the rest of the organisation to align – with the need for agility on the one hand, and the requirement to standardise and economise on the other – will be a growing challenge in 2016.’
The most significant implication for any organisation considering mobile collaboration, however, is security.
>See also: The future of unified communications
With nearly every person in the UK now using a smartphone – along with 91% a laptop and 80% a tablet – it’s hard to believe that there are so few public Wi-Fi networks capable of serving people’s needs securely outside the home or office.
According to a recent survey, 79% of users are aware that public Wi-Fi is not secure, yet 62% of those still choose to connect to it.
Public Wi-Fi offers the convenience of accessibility, but typically doesn’t encrypt data, which leaves passwords exposed and sensitive data vulnerable to the possibility of capture by those with malicious intentions.
Another implication to consider is that organisations also need to employ some form of application control, or they will never keep up with the exploding demand from applications and devices.
‘Nearly everyone has more than one device,’ says Perry Correll, principal technologist at Xirrus. ‘Users show up with the newest, oldest, fastest and slowest devices you can imagine. And to keep things interesting, they bring along their own sources of interference, upping the challenge that much more.
‘Whether it’s called traffic management or application control, the need is the same. To ensure that everyone has a quality experience, network managers must be able to identify the different traffic classes and prioritise key applications.’