In its quarterly update about Enterprise Mobility, called Perspectives, Tata Consulting Service wrote an interesting article about the multiple layers of an enterprise mobililty platform. They argue that before selecting a platform, it’s critical to sort out confusion surrounding platform requirements. The key to addressing this problem lies in correctly defining each of the layers in mobile platforms and examining how those layers mesh with the organization’s IT architecture. Only with this information can IT organizations see whether their mobile platform strategy is sound. The central arguments of the article are summarized below.
Despite the business needs, technical possibilities, and a desire to use mobility as a lever for productivity, the complexity of the mobile ecosystem creates a certain ambiguity around the platform requirements for both enterprises and telecom service providers. To meet these platform-related challenges, multiple layers must be understood and addressed from the platform perspective. These layers can be broadly categorized into the User Devices layer (mostly smartphones and tablets), Transport/Network layer, Device Management layer, Applications/Services layer, and the Enterprise Portal layer.
Enterprise Portal Layer
In most enterprises, the Enterprise Portal layer serves as the gateway for authentication and provides access to applications and services. Enterprise mobility requires integration of this portal into the Device Management layer. This layer has two views: the administration view to manage the mobility of the enterprise and the application access view for users of enterprise applications and services.
Key considerations at this layer include an integrated view that enables system administrators and operators to manage most of the aspects of the mobility of their employees and associates. In other words, this layer should not only serve as a window to all the layers below it, but also facilitate the integration of this platform into any other classic IT systems. Considering the fact that many enterprises have outsourced their IT and infrastructure management operations, this layer should ideally be extendable to IT service providers with the requisite access, authentication, logging, and reporting mechanisms.
The Application/Services Layer is the core framework for service creation and delivery. This is the fundamental user plane layer exchanging enterprise data between the applications on the smartphones and the backend enterprise application. Ideally, this plane should be seamless between the user device and backend IT; specifically, a database on the device which is used by one or more applications. This layer should also support online and offline modes and provide synchronization with backend systems. It requires a thorough analysis of parameters such as the data intensity needs (e.g., light or limited data transfer, medium to heavy data, and rich data transfer) of the applications, the usual usage conditions (e.g., actively mobile, portable office, etc.), primary information usage (i.e., messages, alerts, forms, tables, knowledge, etc.) and the type of data exchange (i.e., email, SMS, file transfer, alert, etc.).
Device Management Layer
The Device Management Layer, a relatively new addition, is what makes mobility feasible. It plays a critical role from both the end device perspective and the enterprise operations perspective. It provides an inventory view of the enterprise mobile assets and their status, verifies compliance to corporate policies before access to enterprise data, and provides remediation solutions.
The Device Management layer also performs critical functions of device authentication. It can lock the device in case of undesirable handset changes by the user, loss, or theft. Most device management products allow remote wipe. A comprehensive Device Management layer also allows pushing applications and patch upgrades to the mobile device in both silent mode (without user intervention) and assisted mode (with user intervention), making it appropriate for problem resolution separate from policy enforcement and security management.
The Transport/Network Layer is the layer for voice and data connectivity from the telecommunication service provider partner. However, with convergence and unified communication, this layer has been extended beyond the traditional telecommunication service provider domain.
Most smartphones today can switch to a WiFi network, saving on data costs. The platform for enterprise mobility should leverage this feature and incorporate security management at a separate layer (i.e., not tied to a particular access mechanism). In essence, an enterprise mobility platform should remain decoupled from the access network.
User Devices Layer
The User Devices layer is fundamental to mobility because it is the end device that provides the mobility and serves as a window for applications and services to the end user.
While end-user devices have motivated enterprise mobility programs, they also bring significant challenges. One of the key reasons for the challenges lie in the focus on consumers by most of the platform and device OEMs and ignoring or at least underplaying the needs of the enterprise. The aspects to consider at this layer, which obviously vary depending on the nature and goal of business, are shown below.
Once all four levels are interpreted and analyzed, it is only then that a business can genuinely develop an enterprise mobility platform that will be comprehensive and genuinely address the needs of their business.
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