Apple released the newest version of the iPad tablet on March 16th, and demand for the new device has been strong. Small- and mid-sized business users continue to flock to the device in record numbers, as the catalog of apps continues to grow. Corporate IT departments are slowly loosening their “Windows Only” grip as they develop a new flurry of “Bring your own device” policies.
But does the iPad really make sense as a business/productivity tool, or is it still just a consumer gadget? Business computing, especially for small- and mid-sized business users, is really all about the end-user experience. Can we get more done in less time? Can we access the information we need quickly and easily, from anywhere? These tend to be the driving questions business owners and managers are asking to see if the justification is there to allow people to use devices they are most comfortable with.
The questions not asked, but are just as important (or more so), have to do with security, data loss prevention and policy management. Businesses have spent a large portion of their IT budgets over the past decade ensuring that their servers, networks and applications are secure. Further, more and more emphasis has been placed lately on Data Loss Prevention and policies around user activities. For example, preventing a user from inserting a USB drive to copy data from the corporate network has become commonplace, as have policies around only using the corporate email system (i.e. Microsoft Exchange) when communicating with clients, vendors and partners. How can we ensure the same kinds of controls are put in place when users are connecting to the corporate network with their iPad or other tablet device?
Apple continues to enhance their tablet operating system with tools and features to allow IT to provide controls needed to ensure corporate data stays safe. The newest version of Microsoft Exchange has remote device policy settings that force users to set a passcode on their tablet when turning it on. In addition, along with the newest iPad release, Apple now provides a tool called the “Apple Configurator”. This is clearly a move to change the perception in IT departments of the iPad and other iOS devices as purely one-off personal gadgets into fully-featured enterprise solutions. Apple states that Configurator, “can be used by larger organizations and businesses to set up new devices, install enterprise apps, and enroll each device with a Mobile Device Management solution for remote management by an IT administrator.
The most common question we are hearing from our IT clients is how they can access their corporate files (typically stored on a Windows server) via their iPad. Luckily, there are more and more cloud-based file storage solutions that can synchronize data from the cloud to a local windows server. Many of these systems can integrate with a Windows directory server (Active Directory) to provide the same user authentication functionality as exists on their local network. There are some other network storage devices (NAS) that are designed to integrate with Active Directory as well, with robust tablet apps to access those directories. One such appliance is produced by Synology (www.synology.com) and is designed to integrate with a corporate directory server, while providing secure (SSL) access to an iPhone, iPad or Android-based device.
It is important to remember that not all apps are created equally, and those designed for consumer use should be used warily by businesses. You should always consider the security of your company’s data as the primary concern when considering mobile devices.
For more information about the use of tablets for your business, please leave a message below or contact Brian Rosenfelt at Skoda Minotti Technology Partners at 440-449-6800.