How is Apple iOS 7 making the iPhone business-ready?

The new iOS 7 is released today and Tim Williams argues, it caters for businesses more than ever before

by Tim Williams
Last Updated: 10 Oct 2013

In technology, skeuomorphism is the concept of making icons look like physical objects. The envelope icon for email, the wastepaper bin sitting on our desktops, and the cut and paste scissors and glue are some common examples. However, Apple has decided that skeuomorphism has had its time. The next version of the iPhone operating system, being rolled out in October, will apparently do away with this look, favouring a much sleeker, more modern feel.

However, that’s not the only big change being implemented by Apple. As part of its growing acknowledgement that the iPhone is as much a business device as the BlackBerry was, iOS7 incorporates a number of features to make it more manageable in the enterprise.
Whether an employee owned device (Bring Your Own Device or BYOD), or one that is Corporately Owned Personally Enabled (COPE), keeping business and personal data and apps separate has always been difficult for IT managers. One feature Apple will be adding to iOS7 is the ability to set up virtual private networks (VPN) for individual applications.

For example, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) app might be required to connect to the company via VPN in order to protect that data, while personal email, or streaming music would not go through the VPN, saving the network from the burden (and potential liability) of transporting personal data. This is also supported by the ability to manage which applications can open which files, so that unauthorised applications can’t gain access to sensitive corporate documents.

The availability of these features is obviously a step in the right direction for supporting corporate iPhone usage, and Apple isn’t the only firm doing this. Samsung’s SAFE technology is designed to support its Galaxy range of devices in a corporate environment.

However, just because the features are there, it doesn’t mean they’ll start working straight out of the box. What Apple, Samsung and other manufacturers have done is make an application programming interface (API) available to allow third party mobile device management suites to control these features.
Still, even with these tools, the hard part is coming up with the policies that determine how employees should be using their phones and tablets in the business. The issue is where the boundaries between a personal and business device blur, and employees start putting corporate data at risk by using unsecured personal applications to access corporate data.
Companies are then faced with the challenge of giving their employees access to the tools they want, such as iPhones, but doing this in a way that doesn’t compromise corporate security. The key to this is working with all stakeholders, including employees, the IT department, HR and legal, to ensure compliance with all legal, regulatory and business requirements. This means talking with your users to establish the data and applications they use, how they are using them, and looking at the way this fits in with the wider regulatory framework your business is operating in. It is only by clearly establishing everyone’s needs that you can create comprehensive usage policies that mean employees can continue to use their iPhones in a work and personal context.

For example, if you’re dealing with customer data, then keeping this secure is of paramount importance, especially from a legal point of view. This means that for employees with access to this data, policies have to be implemented so they can only access this data through a secure connection using an authorised application.
There is a balancing act between data security and usability when it comes to saying what employees can and can’t do with their iPhones. If a user is circumventing official IT policy, by using an unauthorised application for example, then more often than not this isn’t a malicious action, but the employee simply trying to get their job done. To effectively support the use of iPhones in the workplace, the business needs to implement a secure managed framework for managing devices. From this, applications can be delivered that meet the need of the employees, but without compromising compliance and security. Users have no need to sidestep the IT department if it is already giving them what they need.
No matter what steps Apple, or any other manufacturer takes to secure their devices for the workplace, these tools are useless without the right platform and policies in place. Equally, a BYOD or COPE strategy will never work unless it actually reflects what its users need to do. It is no longer about giving an employee technology and expecting them to get on with it. Now, they often have access to better devices than the IT department can provide. Rather than rejecting these outright, with the right attitude employers can make the most of the power in these devices, as well as support how their employees want to work.

Everyone is waiting with baited breath for the next Apple announcement – make sure you’re ready to support it in your business.
Tim Williams, Director of Product Management, Absolute Software

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