Mainframe and Mobility: Tools and Techniques for Complex Corporate Uses

Accessing your email from your mobile device is only the beginning. Increasingly corporations’ mobile operations are moving into the enterprise realm. Fortunately, the tools necessary for provisioning, management, deployment and oversight by the mainframe are tracking this trend. In this post we look at the tools available for BYOD provisioning and use.

Mention the acronym BYOD (a.k.a., Bring Your Own Device to work) to anyone working in an enterprise IT department and you most likely will inspire concerns about security and loss of control.

The anxiety over security is understandable when one considers the sea change in thinking BYOD requires. In the mainframe world, the paradigm is shifting from complete end-to-end control of the ecosystem to one allowing access to a company’s most precious information assets with just about any device users please.

A BYOD strategy makes sense from a financial perspective. Aside from the desire to convert high capital expenditures into low reimbursable expenses, many enterprise procurement offices pursuing a corporate-owned, corporate-controlled device policy could never keep pace with the rapidly escalating feature sets and pricing of mobile devices for consumers.

Plus, millions of dollars devoted to marketing consumer devices to business users means many corporate-owned devices will become redundant or abandoned by enterprise users no matter what policymakers have in mind. In today’s digitally-driven consumer culture, the concept of company control over mobile hardware may be just an illusion – or worse, delusion.

The bottom line is access to the mainframe in some way via BYOD is a virtual inevitability. Rather than fight the tide, savvy companies must learn to ride it. Of course, anxiety over those core issues may cause enterprise decision-makers to overlook other important matters in the corporate environment, such as the management and support of BYOD hardware, followed by provisioning new applications. Indeed, those are the findings of a new survey by research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting (ITIC) and KnowBe4.com, a Clearwater, Florida company that specializes in security awareness training. Specifically, the top three challenges with respect to BYOD deployment were: difficulty of management and support (63%); provisioning new applications (59%) and security (48%).

The survey polled 550 companies worldwide in July and August and found only 13% of respondents said their firms have specific policies in place to deal with BYOD deployments, while another nine percent indicated they were in the process of developing BYOD procedures.

A mainframer’s main concern with BYOD should be in the secure provisioning and deployment of mobile apps, said the report’s authors. Because BYOD is still a recent trend, the emphasis to date has been on the “secure” part of that statement.

But losing sight of management and support – especially, the provisioning of new applications –in favor of a security-trumps-all perspective could mean mobility in the enterprise and BYOD never reach their highest potential benefits for the enterprise.

Mobile presents a number of opportunities for the enterprise that, once the security question is addressed, should not be ignored, said Bruce Armstrong, Strategy and Design Manager in the IBM Software Group. Just to name a few, he said, B2E (that is, business-to-enterprise) mobility leads to increased worker productivity, improved claims processing, increased revenue through sales, a reduction in the use of certain resources – such as fuel, or gas or fleet maintenance – increased employee responsiveness and the ability to accelerate the resolution of internal IT issues.

An Aberdeen study reported in iPad CTO delved into these issues even further. “Survey data taken from 240 enterprises suggest that [overall], the use of mobile apps designed specifically to help employees get their work done, increased productivity by 45%,” iPad CTO reported. “Further, the data reveals that operational efficiency rises almost as much as 44% when enterprise apps are made available.”

Mainframers will find traditional PC management tools and strategies overlap considerably with mobile device management tools and strategy, Armstrong said.

For instance, both categories require device management capabilities, application management, device configuration (whether for VPN, email and/or Wifi) encryption management, integration with internal systems and multiple OS support.

However, “these management tools developed for the PC need to be thought of a little differently now, as they are managing an employee’s personal property [a mobile device] that has company assets [data] on it,” Armstrong said.  That means the inclusion of mobile-specific management tools, many of which are, indeed, focused on security.

Such mobile device management tools, which clearly are not part of a traditional endpoint-management operation for PCs would include device wipe—for when a device is lost or stolen – location information with related GPS support and jailbreak/root detection software. Other tools would include an enterprise app store for appropriate and approved mobile enterprise and productivity applications, as well as a self-service portal for basic questions, Armstrong said.

While many of the issues encircling technology for mobile management and application provisioning tools are relatively straightforward, support and management includes a subjective element that should be addressed. A key area to include is corporate policy governing employees’ use of company networks and resources from personal devices, a set of issues that cuts across multiple matters of concern.

Gadi Ben-Yehuda, director of Innovation and Social Media for The Center for the Business of Government at IBM, addressed these types of issues in a recent post.

Some companies restrict the websites that computers on their networks can visit, he wrote — and this same approach to policy may be extended to BYOD. Restricting access to Facebook, YouTube, and even personal-email sites has “a productivity rationale (i.e. employees should be doing their work, not checking up on their friends' activities) as well as a concern for data security, network integrity, bandwidth issues arising from data-intensive applications, or damage to the company's reputation through the misuse of social media.”

Still, the mixed bag of issues opened by Ben-Yehuda could just a sideshow to other considerations that impact mainframe management and provisioning and support for the mobile enterprise — especially as mobile and the mainframe increasingly intersects with the cloud (as discussed in my last President’s Corner post ).  For instance, a company still must comply with a court order for discovery — and these days the excuse that a cloud provider is having difficulty retrieving certain records is likely to fall on unsympathetic ears.

“There is a lot of case law forming around e-discovery but much of it is still in the emerging category of law,” said Peter S. Vogel, partner with Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP.

A records management program is essential for companies that rely on cloud and mobile technologies — especially for simple email requests, which often are not so simple, Vogel said: “I have seen requests for emails from staffers that go back years. That can be millions of documents.”

Whether business users operating under BYOD fully recognize and appreciate that their mobile gadgets are discoverable in a legal action – and behave with appropriate caution when loading data and applications on those devices – is a challenge most of today’s enterprise policymakers would not claim they have fully conquered. Like other dynamic realms of IT such as secure networking and cloud computing, the BYOD arena – and the tools for managing it – will continue to evolve.

Erika Morphy is a 20-year veteran business journalist who covers Mobility trends & issues for SHARE’s President’s Corner. In her next post, Erika explores how mainframers are preparing for the onslaught of hackers and malware writers increasingly focusing on the mobile space.

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