Your company's employees are downloading free or inexpensive mobile productivity apps on their own steam, and IT doesn't have much control: 66% of the 322 respondents to our 2012 Mobile Security Survey allow employees to install personal applications on corporate-owned mobile devices; 27% have no restrictions in place whatsoever.
Instead of swimming against this tide, why not channel the enthusiasm? Benefits of innovative apps include less dependence on email, improved social collaboration and all-around better productivity. The main areas to wrangle are security, connectivity, compatibility with enterprise systems and back-end integration.
The best route is to maintain an active whitelist or an in-house app store where IT vets any apps that will interact with company data or networks. If that's not feasible:
1. Realize that the best productivity apps select themselves. Users won't like a kludgy, nonintuitive app, no matter how secure or manageable, so don't try and push poorly designed tools. Our new report, "App Dev in the Age of Mobility," runs down device platforms, design choices and development tools and options, and offers recommendations for those interested in mobilizing enterprise applications and business processes.
2. Have an open-door (or in-box) policy. Encourage users to run potential apps by IT. It's better to know up front what's going on devices than to be surprised. At a minimum, investigate what assets the app will access and looks for security red flags. In our report on BYOD strategies, we discuss how to build a resilient, scalable enterprise plan based on virtualization and mobile device management technology.
3. Consider a managed service that can provide security around the mobile apps in use, says Chris Marsh, senior enterprise mobility analyst at Yankee Group. "These services can restrict, for example, whether Skype users can share corporate data. In this way, IT won't be preventing people from using mobile apps but rather making sure security is in place to prevent sharing corporate data," Marsh said.
There are 40 to 50 mobile device management/managed mobile service providers in the market, from Dell and IBM to incumbent security vendors like McAfee to cloud-based MDM players like Virtela. "These companies enable the enterprise to impose policies and mobile security to protect its data," Marsh said. We run down a number of options in our MDM Buyer's Guide.
An expense-account tracker for iOS, iXpenseIt records each expense/transaction on the device enterprise users always carry--a smartphone. IXpenseIt takes photo snapshots of receipts and catalogs them, generating graphical reports users can quickly scan. It supports user-friendly mileage tracking, including user-customized reimbursement rates.
The tool compares monthly budgets to expenses, and the daily spending average to the current day's spend. The app outputs expense summaries and enables the user to easily track recurring expenses, and supports value-added tax and good and services tax calculations. Users can export records as spreadsheets or HTML-based reports. The app can forward reports and data off the device using email or Wi-Fi. Users can transmit records with the digital photo receipt attached, for expedited reimbursement.
The $4.99 app supports world currencies and currency conversion and 12 languages. All data is password-protected.
Dragon Dictation converts the spoken word to text on the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch (Android users can download Dragon Go!). The text is instantly available to text-based applications, such as email, blogs, Twitter, SMS, to-do lists, reminder software and anything the user can paste text into after copying it to a clipboard.
The Dragon Naturally Speaking-enabled app enhances productivity--and keeps employees in line with local laws--by allowing hands- and eyes-free operation. In addition, dictation is typically faster than typing; five times faster, according to Nuance.
One security caveat: The software processes speech in the cloud, and anyone who downloads the app must allow Nuance to use the speech data collected to improve performance of the app. So, Nuance keeps a copy. On the plus side, the app is free.
Polycom RealPresence Mobile enables enterprise-class videoconferencing on the iPhone 4S, iPad 2, and certain Android devices, including the Motorola Xoom, Droid Xyboard 10.1 by Motorola and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablets.
Using the Polycom RealPresence Mobile platform and HD technology, H.323 and SIP protocols, users can communicate among these mobile devices as well as endpoint clients including the Polycom Telepresence m100, the Polycom CMA Desktop, the Polycom Multipoint Bridge RMX Series, and the Polycom HDX Series. The app may not work with non-Polycom endpoints and software on the other end of the call.
The app connects to Polycom videoconferencing technologies in the cloud and on site and enables users to roam among mobile networks and Wi-Fi; it can securely identify and authenticate users on both sides of a call. Capabilities IT will like include access to enterprise directories, preconfiguration and multipoint calling.
The free app uses Polycom Constant Clarity technology for compression to ensure quality audio and video over wireless networks. The app supports VPN clients.
TripIt apps for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad and Windows Phone organize travel documents and information and generate travel itineraries, confirming plans and reservations. The TripIt mobile app uses a dashboard to notify travelers of the next connection on their lists, including boarding times. Upon landing, TripIt provides the next gate number or alternate flight options. Trips organized on TripIt are private; data sharing is optional. TripIt is TrustE- certified and PCI-compliant, and has passed rigorous security audits by Fortune 500 companies like American Express, according to the company. Concur hosts the app in the cloud at a SAS 70 type II-compliant secure facility.
The basic TripIt app is free, but you'll have to put up with advertising. An ad-free version costs $3.99. The premium service is $49 per year.
The iAnnotate PDF app enables users to annotate and organize PDF files on their iPads with an array of customizable tools. For example, a user could add notes and bookmarks for team members or aid in research and recall. The app includes a tool to navigate PDFs and search their content.
Users can view several PDFs simultaneously by using the tabbed viewing feature, scroll through pages and easily zoom in for a closer look. The app comes with single-tap navigation of tools including, highlighter, pen, typewriter, notes, markup, photos and voice recording.
Users can annotate photos taken with the iPad 2 or from a photo library. The iAnnotate app is available for $9.99 at the App Store.
Google recently snapped up QuickOffice, which works on Android, iPad, iPhone and Symbian-based phones.
The QuickOffice mobile app enables users to create, edit, store and share files from the Microsoft Office Suite including PowerPoint, Excel and Word. Quick Office connects to Dropbox, Box and Google Docs. Users work with these apps inside QuickOffice. QuickOffice Pro HD for iPad and Android Honeycomb start at $19.99.