Open the office to Android

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 25 2014, 19:08pm hrs
For many years now, there has been a buzz around the BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device. However, the biggest stumbling block for seeing more private smartphones and tablets being used in the office environment is the fact that most of these devices are now running the Android operating system that is more open to vulnerabilities.

Globally, about 80% of all smartphones sold last year were Android devices. It is not that Android devices are unsafe, but the fact that Googles operating system is open and lets anyone upload apps to its store makes those using it more susceptible to threats. So the decline of BlackBerry, undoubtedly the leader in the enterprise mobility space, has not lead to the growth of other big enterprise players. Many companies around the world have moved to Apples iOS and Microsofts Windows Phone platforms, letting employees use these devices to access enterprise content like they would have done with a BlackBerry. But this is still a small chunk of devices as IT managers still dont have the confidence to do the same with Android devices.

So for the past couple of years there have been attempts to create solutions that will give companies the confidence to let Android devices into their secure systems. The biggest push undoubtedly came from Samsung last year when it announced the creation of Knox. Samsung is also the largest player in Android with about half the devices carrying its branding. Knox is an end-to-end package of security services that spread from the hardware to the application layer. It also has a BlackBerry Balance-like secure application container that keeps the enterprise applications away from private apps.

However, a year on, it seems Samsung has still not been able to get many companies to sign up. Samsung Indias enterprise business head Sameer Garde recently told me that customers were showing interest because many employees were bringing in their own Android devices and they had to make this switch-over safer for all the stakeholders. But I did not get the impression that any company had switched over yet, at least not in India. But once they do, Samsung would like to see a big share of that market given that it has an end-to-end solution in Knox and can offer devices in form factors and price points.

The other big player emerging in the space is Lenovo, which recently acquired Googles Motorola Mobility handset business. Motorola already has a decent play in the enterprise space as far as Android devices are concerned and Lenovo, with its strong base in catering to businesses, can take this ahead.

There are a bunch of other players too in this space, like Fiberlink which has a Android mobile device management solution called MaaS360. The company was recently acquired by IBM, a clear indicator that they are in a very hot space. A lot of start-ups and companies working on enterprise solutions for Android could end up in the kittys of larger companies who know this space is going to explode in the very near future. And when you talk Android, it would be wrong to think just in terms of smartphones and tablets. There are a bunch of desktop solutions too available at the moment, offering a cost advantage to companies as almost all of the software is free.

I would not be surprised if a lot of companies look at these devices in areas where they do not need resource-intensive applications. There is also the advantage that there is no training needed to get someone to work on an Android device for obvious reasons. But even these devices would be better off being within the managed system.

Strangely, we have not heard Google, the creator of Android, make much noise about an enterprise solution for its popular operating system. But it could be a matter of time before they come up with something for the office. Googles opportunity lies in making the entire enterprise computing space more affordable with devices like the Google Chromebook and the free software solutions that come with it. An ideal world would have a Google enterprise solution that you access with your Google password from any device, anywhere. I doubt if this is such a big pipedream after all.