When you're driving in an unfamiliar place, you sometimes get to an intersection and it's not clear where to go or how to proceed safely. That uncertainty can be compounded if the intersection is under construction.
IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals face a similarly unfamiliar situation as they wade through challenges associated with serving an increasingly mobile workforce while their traditional email solutions are re-engineered for the cloud.
In the past, life was simple for I&O pros. Executing on a mobile strategy usually just involved running Blackberry Enterprise Server and supporting a handful of execs and sales teams that used BlackBerrys for email and calendaring.
But it isn’t a one-horse race anymore: I&O managers are now tasked to deliver on their firm's next-generation mobile strategy, which includes supporting a wide array of new consumer smartphones like the iPhone, an ever-expanding set of tablet options, new applications and services, and a much wider audience.
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The data is compelling: Forrester finds that I&O professionals will support multiple mobile platforms over the next 12 months: BlackBerry (84%), iOS (83%), Android (77%), and Windows Phone (61%).
Mobile isn’t the only thing dominating IT conversations these days--cloud services are right up there too. As companies feverishly examine cloud-based services to shave cost and operational responsibility, email is one of the first candidates they consider offloading. In fact, Forrester finds that 45 percent of IT decision makers are either significantly interested in moving, or have definite plans to move, email out of their data center.
Why? Email is a relatively discrete service and one of the more mature offerings in the cloud marketplace. It's still not ready for many companies, though--integration, security, and regulatory issues are stumbling blocks for many I&O professionals who've performed the evaluation.
The challenge ultimately lies at the busy intersection of mobility and cloud-based email. Often these two initiatives are largely siloed with different groups leading each project and are mostly unaware of each technology’s dependence on the other. What's the issue? Vendors need to strip cloud-based email solutions of all their moving parts to better deliver stable, economical services. This means that some of the usual ways of deploying a closely integrated service like MDM solutions don't always carry over to cloud email.
Today's MDM solutions integrate with corporate email systems to enforce PIN requirements, deliver and configure email, and remotely lock and wipe devices if necessary. These solutions also leverage directory services to easily provision services and policies to the right user groups.
However, the majority of this functionality is reserved for on-premises email deployments, which allow easy deployment of appliances to integrate the two solutions. Unfortunately, because firms often don't control the infrastructure used to power their cloud-based email, integration with MDM solutions becomes much more difficult and leaves enterprises without important features like complete directory support. For instance, some solutions require components to be directly installed on a mail server, and you don't have that kind of access. MDM solutions also often use latency-sensitive protocols and must sit next to your email server-- and providers like Google and Microsoft won't necessarily take that responsibility on.
The good news is that the technology landscape is quickly improving for companies looking to move their email to the cloud without compromising their mobile priorities. With the recent release of RIM’s Blackberry Business Cloud Services, for example, Office365 customers now have the ability to manage and deliver Exchange and Office to their Blackberry devices. RIM has also said that it will extend its MDM solution to include management for Android and iOS devices. In addition, vendors like AirWatch, Fiberlink, MobileIron, and Zenprise have recently announced support for Office 365 in upcoming releases, with more vendors likely to follow.
Google, IBM, and Microsoft will all continue to rapidly improve mobile experience on their platforms, but their approaches differ. Google will continue to evolve its own native service and maintain BlackBerry connectivity via the Google Apps Connector for BlackBerry Enterprise Server, but it will not integrate with other third-party platforms. Alternatively, Microsoft offers Exchange Web Service (EWS) for partners to connect to and integrate with, but it will also continually update its native mobile management. Forrester expects Microsoft to leverage its own System Center solutions to drive a broader client management strategy.
Unlike Microsoft, IBM’s LotusLive offers BlackBerry support hosted from IBM’s own data centers today, and it will continue to do so. In addition, IBM will continue to lead with its Lotus Notes Traveler for Android and iOS devices. Although IBM offers integration options for partners, Forrester is unaware of any MDM vendor adapting its platforms for LotusLive.
Bottom line: The integration between MDM tools and cloud-based email systems is crucial for successful mobile initiatives. Workers are increasingly using their mobile devices to access their corporate email, contacts, and calendar, and they expect IT to deliver an experience that matches what they get via consumer channels. Better integration between these tools means better user experience and faster deployment times, and it allows IT teams to leverage existing management functionality like directory services to help them provision the right tools to the right people.
Given this strong linkage, I&O professionals should link their mobility plans with their next-generation email strategy, making sure MDM tools fully support the existing email deployments.
Christian Kane is an analyst at Forrester Research, serving Infrastructure & Operations professionals. He will be speaking at Forrester’s upcoming Infrastructure & Operations Forum in Las Vegas, NV, May 24-25.
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