Nearly 50% of information workers around the world say their primary mobile devices are Android-based, according to a Forrester Research survey conducted in 2014. This is up from 37% in 2012. So, Android is playing an increasingly important role in enterprise mobility.
As you are probably aware, Android for Work is a recently released enterprise mobility management (EMM) platform that lets users safely combine work and personal usage on a single device.
Why Google had to come up with Android for Work?
The insecure and fragmented reputation of Android has been among the persistent reasons for its dismissal for use in the enterprise. It has been seen as unreliable for use in a mobile workplace.
Before the release of Android’s Lollipop version and Android for Work, IT departments of enterprises didn’t have access to official Android APIs and had to use workarounds from EMM providers to manage work-approved applications. This tended to make business apps unstable and riddled with bugs and added to the frustration of users who had to update and remove apps themselves.
So, frustrated employees often had to spend a lot of the time they could’ve devoted to meet business needs to troubleshooting instead. This made tools for business productivity the opposite of what they should’ve been. Since the problems affected employees precisely when they had to get things done, the business productivity tool issues frustrated them a lot more than issues related to other software categories could have. For instance, problems with sending emails to colleagues while trying to internally resolve customer complaints would cause much more frustration than problems with other software.
With Samsung for Enterprise and iPhone in Business, among others, already offering businesses ways for separation of personal and work data on their devices, there was need for something like Android for Work to let enterprises open their internal networks securely for the preferred Android devices of their employees.
How does Android for Work let you handle dual personas – work and personal?
Before EMM solutions such as Android for Work, people often had to use two smartphones, one with personal data such as family photos, social networking and stuff related with sports and the other issued by the company containing official documents, contacts, appointments and emails. With two phones, the employees could be sure that while the IT department had full control of the work data and could wipe it remotely, they couldn’t see personal photos or other information. It was a workable setup, but duplication was the downside.
A better way is a smartphone that supports dual personas and allows users to separate personal and work data on the same device. Google laid the foundation for supporting dual personas in the operating system with managed profile APIs in Android 5.0. Now, they provide a more complete solution in the form of Android for Work.
Since Android can support more than one user on a phone, one way to separate personal and work data would have been to create two users – work user and personal user. Everything would have been separate, including media, apps, wallpapers, icon layouts and data. Users would have had to log in and out of accounts to use apps and view notifications. However, that would still have been quite inconvenient.
Android for Work separates personal and work profiles securely using Android’s multi-user framework, but there is no need to switch users. There is one, unified interface for everything. It adds a work profile owned by the employer to a personal device through the app for Google apps device policy.
Users can have two copies of the same app on the home screen – one for work and one personal, with a small red badge denoting the work app. Aside from the badge, the work app is identical to the personal app users are familiar with. Notifications for both kinds of apps appear in the notification panel, albeit those for work apps have the same red badge. Users can pick either account, through a dialog, while sharing items.
What are the main technology components of Android for Work?
There are 4 main technology components:
- Built-in tools for productivity – Google has created a business app suite for routine tasks related to business. There are apps for calendar, contacts and email, which support both Notes and Exchange and provide capabilities for editing presentations, spreadsheets and documents.
- Work profile – There is a dedicated work profile that isolates work data to protect it. Google has built on multi-user support in Android 5.0, besides SELinux security enforcement and default encryption to create it. Sensitive data is secure even as IT deploys approved apps for work beside the personal apps of users. People know that the employer won’t be able to view, edit or delete their personal content and can only manage work data.
- Google Play for Work – This lets businesses manage apps securely for all users who run Android for Work and simplifies the distribution of apps to employees. The IT department can approve every work app deployed by employees.
- Android for Work app – This app can be deployed on devices which don’t natively run work profiles or which run the Ice Cream Sandwich to KitKat versions of Android. IT can completely manage the app that provides secure access, browsing, documents, contacts, calendar and mail to approved apps for work.
What should you ensure before you adopt Android for Work?
Here are a few things which you should ensure before you embrace Android for work for your business:
- Make sure your company apps are compatible – The apps you’ve bought or built or are planning have to be compatible with the standard API for Android for Work. Otherwise, when a user tries to move information to a badged (work) app from an app that isn’t badged, the apps may crash.
- Update devices to Android Lollipop or replace old devices with those based on ARMv8 architecture – Although pre-Lollipop devices are also supposed to have similar capabilities for separation of profiles through the Android for Work app, the shortcut may not be worth the risk. Since Android for Work depends on the SELinux features and multi-user support introduced in Lollipop, it is better to update devices.
- Turn encryption on – Encryption is not enforced on all devices with Android Lollipop, despite Google’s claims that Lollipop will by default encrypt tablet and smartphone data. This is because of various reasons related to how encryption affects performance and whether or not it happens in hardware or software.
- Check for support from suppliers – Find out from your handset, application and EMM suppliers about when they’ll be prepared to support Android for Work and what specific actions your organization needs to take in that regard. Also, before you roll out Android for Work throughout the enterprise, run a beta of a reasonable size to test and verify, as with any new software rollout.
How does Android for Work augment enterprise mobility?
Android for Work offers a value proposition for both primary stakeholders – individual users and IT staff. It provides them new capabilities that let them be as productive through Android devices away from office as they are at the office.
Solutions based on Android for Work offer the following benefits:
- Data separation and security – To ensure that personal information remains private and business data remains safe from malware and separate, admin managed policies and hardware based encryption are used on devices on which Android for Work is deployed.
- Simplified deployment of applications – Admins can find and deploy business apps on Android for Work devices through Google Play. They can also use Google Play to deploy internal resources and applications.
- Support for both company-provided and employee-owned devices – Companies can configure work profiles on devices owned by employees or provide their own devices to employees, as Android for Work allows safe use of a single device for personal and business purposes.
- Remote management – Admins can control remotely all work-related data, apps and policies and even delete them from a device without being able to touch the personal data of the device’s owner.
- ‘Divide’ productivity suite – For users who can’t access Google Apps for Work, there is a suite of productivity apps designed specifically for Android for Work. It includes download management, tasks, contacts, calendar and business email and is secure.
Android for Work makes Android more attractive for those making IT decisions for enterprises, especially those wary of its lack of enterprise manageability and security features in the past. This is even more relevant in view of the growing percentage of employees who own and use Android devices.
What is your opinion of the likely impact of Android for Work on enterprise mobility? Please share with us in the comments section below.
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