Is the Android OS Right for Your Business?

Android sales have soared in the U.S. making this mobile Operating System (OS) one of the most demanded in the consumer market. We are also beginning to see a trend towards greater adoption in the enterprise. With growing demand in the enterprise space, IT managers expect that Android smartphones and tablets not only have to increase the productivity of their mobile workforce but also ensure corporate information is safe.

Do Android devices include core productivity and security features that business customers require to adopt them in the enterprise? The Android OS has definitely come a long way since its original release and now addresses some of the needs of the enterprise IT manager. With additional enhancements by device manufacturers such as Motorola and Samsung, some of the newer Android devices now offer solid enterprise capabilities that significantly advance enterprise mobility.

Enterprise Friendly

With the release of Android 2.2 (aka Froyo) the Android OS boasts a fuller integration with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). EAS offers push synchronization of business contact, calendar, task, and email enabling greater productivity of mobile workers while on the go. Froyo also included application data backup, allowing IT managers to backup and restore corporate applications and data if the device is reset or a user upgrades to a new Android-powered device. Another feature introduced on Android 2.2 is Cloud-to-Device Messaging.  Cloud-to-Device Messaging allows IT managers to send “lightweight” data messages from their servers to their applications on Android devices. For example an Operations Manager can send critical work order updates to field technicians, which are directly pushed to their device.  This can help technicians better serve the needs of their customers and improve service revenue.

The latest version of Android, 4.0 (aka “Ice Cream Sandwich”) includes new features and functionality that can help improve efficiency for business workers.  Some of these enhancements include improved copy and paste, voice typing enhancements and a new calendar UI that make navigating calendar pages easier and more intuitive.  They also have added a new screenshot feature that makes it easier for business users to not only share images of webpages, but also capture error images and send them to their IT administrator.  This can be used to diagnose and resolve technical issues from the road.

Security and Device Management

A must for Enterprise IT departments is helping ensure that their remote workforce has reliable and security enhanced access to corporate data when in the field. The Android OS boosts security policy enforcement and centralized management capabilities. The Android OS device policy management APIs allow IT departments to write applications that can control security features of the device such as remote wipe, minimum password, and lockscreen timeout through an exchange server.

For example, there are numeric pin or alphanumeric password options to unlock a device, enable remote tracking, and the ability to remotely manage standard application load sets for mobile devices. Exchange administrators can remotely reset the device to factory defaults to secure data in case the device is lost or stolen. In addition, the latest version of  Android 4.0 supports full on-device data encryption and includes facial recognition technology.  This feature allows a user to look into their phone’s camera to unlock it, rather than typing in a code to pass the lock screen.

Some have expressed concern about the ability to use the facial recognition with only a picture of the registered user. This technology is in the early stages and will undoubtedly go through much more testing before it is certified to be truly “enterprise worthy.”

Even with these enhancements, IT administrators, continue to have concerns.  As a result, Motorola and Samsung have taken steps to make their devices enterprise-ready.  The Motorola® ATRIX™ 2 and Samsung® Captivate Glide™ from AT&T comes with on-device encryption and SD card encryption. Motorola and Samsung have also integrated VPN (Virtual Private Network) and device management software into these devices, giving IT departments enhanced protection and management of the device as well as any applications installed on it.  In addition, Mobile Remote Access Services (MRAS) from AT&T provides added security that helps keep mobile workers connected to corporate applications and resources using almost any wireless device.

Business Applications

Businesses using Android devices can streamline employee productivity and improve service delivery with mobile business applications.  Mobile applications such as WorkBench, Pronto Forms, and Xora GPS TimeTrack from AT&T are now available for download on the Android market. With these apps, organizations can extend access to core back-office systems, allowing mobile workers to capture and update information while in the field and providing management with real-time access to field operations.

The Android Market also offers enterprise users tons of cool business apps that can help increase efficiency of their mobile workers.  A few of my personal favorite apps include Docs to Go , Scan2 PDF, Cab4Me, and Cashbook.

Docs to Go allows users to view and edit their Microsoft Office documents including PowerPoint on their device. Business users can save documents as a .pdf file and email them to customers or corporate office from the road using the Scan2 PDF app. With the Cab4Me app mobile workers can find cab companies on their GPS location including user reviews and contact information. There is no need to wait to get back to the office to track your business expenses. Cashbook allows users to easily enter and track business expenses from the field and it comes with password protection.

The Android OS by itself is not ready for Enterprise; however, some device manufacturers have invested heavily in filling the gaps of the stock Android platform to provide a truly enterprise ready experience.

So, what do you think?  What apps are most beneficial to you on your Android?  What features of your Android do you find in the “can’t live without it” category?  We look forward to hearing from you.
The Networking Exchange Blog Team About NEB Team