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Going Agnostic: Meeting an Enterprise's Changing Mobile BI Needs

Enterprises must become platform-agnostic to meet employees' new expectations, but there are challenges to overcome. These best practices can help.

Imagine a day 30 years in the future. You're talking to your grandchild via hologram while perusing your collection of vintage, two-dimensional video files and you find clips from "The Office" and "Office Space." Their hologram turns to you in befuddlement: "Why are all these people stuck in an office?"

For Further Reading:

Maximizing Enterprise Mobile ROI with Mobile Operations Intelligence

To Become Data-Driven, Focus on User Empowerment

Desire for Mobile BI Continues to Increase

They've never seen or heard of the traditional workplace featured in these clips because the enterprise has changed so dramatically that the standard office space no longer exists.

Today, many enterprise employees are remote or mobile. They may work outside the traditional 9 to 5 to accommodate international customers or to finish projects. Employees may use a designated company-owned laptop or PC equipped with a VPN, but they may also want to work full- or part-time on their own tablet or phone. Employees need all-hours access to important work assets.

As consumers, employees have unfettered access to their personal data (such as emails and photos) on any device, and they expect the same access at work. If they don't get it, many will use consumer products for convenience, even though consumer-grade products may lack the security features standard for enterprise-grade solutions.

This shift away from traditional PCs and workspaces and toward working from anywhere, from any connected device, may facilitate productivity and improve employee happiness, but an enterprise implementing these changes has challenges to overcome as well.

Solving Two Key Challenges: Security and Access

There are two important challenges -- security and access -- that enterprises must overcome to modernize successfully. To solve these challenges, enterprises must create a "platform-agnostic" office: one where all employees have equal access to all files from any device at any time on any operating system while maintaining security and productivity.

The following best practices can help you in your transition to platform agnosticism.

Make Data Access Easy

Workers using their mobile devices must be able to access and exchange data. For example, a mobile VPN client allows workers to access and save files to a secure server, a cloud-based system allows workers to upload new files, and cloud- or browser-based text editing software can allow workers to update files remotely.

Heed Regulations

When setting up access to workflows, make sure your data security complies with rules and regulations. Industries such as healthcare, law, and insurance have specific laws related to data management and access, and any employee accessing data from a mobile device must be compliant.

For example, in the United States, HIPAA rules restrict handling of sensitive patient data. Giving unfettered access to patient data might seem like the best way to enable collaboration between patients, insurers, and medical practitioners so treatments are not delayed. However, per HIPAA, that data must remain secure end-to-end -- within the doctor's office, in insurance company databases, in transit electronically, on the device used to view the data, and in physical form (such as printed forms or reports). Remote access to patient data must be carefully secured, and expectations of what a user may and may not do with that data must be understood. An accounting of how data is accessed must be available to remain compliant with HIPAA.

A more recent example of data protection rules is the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). One significant portion of the GDPR ensures the "right to erasure," where a company must be able to fulfill an individual's request to erase their personal data. If this data exists on an unknown number of workstations, mobile devices, or is printed in a home office, an enterprise cannot ensure full erasure. From the start, the company should have implemented security and usage policies that properly protect and track the data to ensure GDPR compliance.

For Further Reading:

Maximizing Enterprise Mobile ROI with Mobile Operations Intelligence

To Become Data-Driven, Focus on User Empowerment

Desire for Mobile BI Continues to Increase

Use the Cloud

If an enterprise has not implemented cloud storage yet, it's a must to enable a truly mobile working environment. Cloud storage lets employees approve and edit shared documents with either embedded or third-party signing or editing tools and with minimal local software or computing requirements. This allows mobile workers to interact with files from multiple platforms at all times, from any device, as long as a user has login access.

The cloud avoids the problem of keeping files locally and alleviates worries about version control. It eliminates the need for an employee to travel with a traditional laptop. With the large expanse of cloud-based productivity plug-ins, mobile workers are better equipped today to work remotely without burdensome hardware limitations.

Cloud providers are the closest thing we currently have to a completely agnostic environment. Unfortunately, most enterprise cloud services don't have all the functionality and features enterprises need and often act as repositories or digital hoarding grounds with little context or direction on how to work or interact with the files.

Select a cloud storage provider carefully to ensure it can provide the functions you need, such as the ability for end users to interact with their files easily, ease of file navigation from a mobile interface, availability of productivity plug-ins that allow documents to be edited or signed, and a plan for new technologies (such as automatic indexing or artificial intelligence analysis) to prevent files from going stale.

Enterprise Mobility Management

An enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution can help manage mobile devices efficiently and securely. Available solutions can be simple or complex. Some companies may just want to implement email management software; others may want solutions for device authentication and device control (to prevent users from taking screenshots) or the ability to wipe or lock a device if the employee is terminated or the device is lost or stolen.

Support for scanning and printing from a PC in an office is nearly always supported in EMM solutions. However, support for scanning and printing from mobile devices is often overlooked. As workers are doing more work on mobile devices, scanning and printing should be included in the EMM solution requirements. Give employees the option to digitize paper documents or print digital documents -- different situations will call for one or the other (or both).

Imagine asking a client to digitally sign a document on a tablet. That client might be interested in a printout of what they signed, and being able to do that from that same tablet would be convenient. Imagine being handed a paper document and wanting to quickly digitize it and route it internally, right from your phone, without needing to fire up your PC.

Involve IT in Your Decisions

Ensure IT can support whatever cloud and EMM solution you choose. Outside providers can manage many solutions, but if they do, ensure IT is comfortable with using a third party. IT should be able to properly support each disparate sector of the workforce and manage everything simply without using multiple interfaces.

Think of the Future

Consider where your company will be in 10 years. What are the workflow and technology expectations of the millennials in the workforce now? What will Generation Z, about to enter the workforce, need and expect? Some users (regardless of age) might be perfectly comfortable working on a PC while others prefer a tablet, and it's important to have the flexibility to keep everyone happy. Ultimately, although it's important to consider where your industry is going, it's just as critical to understand who your main workforce is, what they want, and what they will be comfortable using.

A Platform-Agnostic Future

Many enterprises have implemented mobility management to some extent but in a disjointed way. An enterprise might have one set of rules for Android devices and another for Apple, for example. It's critical to unify all employees and their disparate devices under a single endpoint so everyone can work as productively and efficiently as possible depending on their personal preferences and needs.

Reaching the ultimate goal of a platform-agnostic office won't be easy. It will require buy-in from all shareholders, from the C-level to IT to the employees themselves. However, by utilizing available technology solutions such as cloud storage and EMMs, enterprises can move closer to achieving equal access, airtight security, device parity, and platform agnosticism -- and the when, where, and how of traditional office work may soon truly be a thing of the past.

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