Security remains a concern, but more companies are opting for Android for business

More and more businesses adopting Android for use in the workplace, so what the C-suite need to know about using Android for business?

As more and more businesses adopt Android as their mobile operating system of choice for business devices across the enterprise, concerns about security, the need for bespoke business functionality, and end of life support have been at the heart of c-suite worries. On average, 72% of tablets and handheld devices in businesses (excluding mobile telephones) use the Android operating system, according to recent research carried out by Opinion Matters on behalf of Panasonic Toughbook.

Tom Davison, EMEA Technical Director at mobile security specialists Lookout, said: "With Gartner predicting that by 2020, 80% of work tasks will take place on mobile devices, having the flexibility to access company information remotely is clearly transforming the way businesses and employees operate." According to IDC, over 280 million Android devices will be shipped for business use this year, making it the most popular operating system in the business world.

Andrej Sonkin, General Manager for Enterprise Business at HMD Global, added that Android have been working closely with the market to develop the in-built Android Enterprise capabilities, that provide solutions to meet real life needs. "As companies of all sizes are allowing smartphones to access sensitive company data, and the move towards digitalisation continues to drive modern use cases across the organisation, user experience, security and compatibility to Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solutions are key for IT decision makers," he said.

The business benefits of Android

For Innserve, an outsource service provider that specialises in the supply, installation and maintenance of beer and soft drinks dispense systems, the move to Panasonic rugged devices using Android for business was driven by need. The company opted for Panasonic's L1, a semi rugged device, running Android, for its technicians.

Kieran Delaney, IT Director at Innserve, explains that choosing Android devices meant they were quicker to market and was a key differentiator, especially since they need flexibility to make their own apps. "We work in wet environments; we work in cold environments where consumer tablets just wouldn't work. We can turn the Toughbook into wet mode and it will work that way."

Innserve employees used to turn up at depot and get a stack of paperwork. "Now they can respond to real-time needs. It allows real mobile working," Delaney said. "Android is flexible and open. iOS comes on a small number of devices."

Chris Koeneman, SVP at Tangoe, believes that the fundamental appeal of Android as an operating system for business has been price and flexibility as compared with iOS. "Android tends to be less expensive because it is an evolving open source project based on Linux and other open source software," he said. All of the open source development is organised into releases issued by Google. 

"Android is flexible because it is not tied to a particular device and can run on anything that uses a 32 bit or 64-bit ARM processor, Intel x86 based processor, or AMD x86-64.  If a business wants to optimise around cost, Android is appealing because the OS is inexpensive and there is a wide range of supported devices that include low cost options," he added.

Having the flexibility of the Android OS on rugged devices that can handle the extreme environments that Innserve's employees need to work in, is vital to the company's success. "Our technicians can scan barcodes in the field and do asset control and inventory control. The devices are secure and up to date; with our partnership with Panasonic they come preconfigured with our app, ready to work. Our technicians are not computer operators and with this system, they don't need to be," Delaney said.

He added: "Technology should empower and not be a hurdle. We had to remember in developing this bespoke app that technicians do a different job to us. We had to ensure we were thinking of the impact and meaning of words and removing friction from the technicians' experience, while giving them the tools to do their job more easily."

Innserve ensured that feedback from technicians was integrated throughout the development process to ensure that the internal app is easy to use. This meant spending time with the technicians. "The first app they tore to bits, but that was good because we addressed those things. We field tested with different sizes, and with different devices. We have an ageing workforce, requiring certain accommodations such as larger text and we are able to accommodate that with Android," Delaney noted.

For companies wanting to deploy mobile devices running Android, especially when this necessitates a change in process, Delaney stresses that planning is the big thing. "You need to be organised and focus on testing and training and ensure that you get feedback from users," he said.

"Latency/ mobile signal can be an issue," he added. For Innserve, it is an issue in North Wales, the highlands of Scotland, and the Norwich area. The app is designed to sync when they get a signal so it is able to work around that.

The in-house development team comprised one person working on the app and he was able to get it up and running in seven months. Innserve release one to two APKs per month. The app allows technicians to do stock management and ordering, and to take photos of equipment and breakage as evidence.

Choosing the right device can be a challenge, from both a user and enterprise perceptive, as it is difficult to know which ones are regularly updated with security patches and OS updates. Sonkin explained that, to make the selection easier, Google has launched a programme called Android Enterprise Recommended, which sets minimum criteria for hardware, user experience and software updates.

"By opting for one of these devices, this not only offers greater peace of mind through security, but also improved Total Cost of Ownership as the smartphones don't become obsolete or incompatible with apps and EMM solutions. Our advice is to look beyond the hardware specs only and choose devices that are always kept up to date and thus improve over time," he said.

Davison added that the deployment of handheld smart devices across the enterprise, whether they are Android or iOS, is introducing a host of new challenges for the c-suite and, as a result, has meant the traditional security perimeter has disappeared.

Security must be primary consideration

"Businesses need to realise the potential risk associated with applications, corporate data, emails, messages and critical documents being accessed by workers on mobile devices from unsecured networks. Gone are the days where corporate data is moved between a server and an endpoint on networks managed by the IT department," he said.

Koeneman cautions, that while cost can be a primary factor for device choice in business, security and utility are certainly important, too. Security for a mobile device used in business starts with the MDM or EMM.  Android took a step forward on this front in 2014 with Android Enterprise and the support of a reliable EMM experience.

"You can never do enough security," Delaney said. "Our app is locked down, but phishing is a concern." His advice is to be as up to date as possible. "It has meant a fundamental shift for business in terms of software deployment, because of the update cycle."

Sonkin said that there is an increasing number of companies starting to limit employee selection of BYOD devices to a pre-approved list only. "This list can be, for example, any device that is part of either the Android Enterprise Recommended or Android One programmes, as these guarantee availability of regular security patching, support for key EMM deployment tools for easy enrolment and the ability to separate personal and work apps through Android Enterprise compatible EMM solutions."

The advancement of security options in Android has changed how a business would deploy secure Android devices. "What has evolved is a coordination between Android and the EMM vendor. Efficient deployment of devices can be done through managed Google Play accounts such that no domain verification is required," Koeneman explained. The EMM manages the individual Android Enterprise accounts on the managed devices so there is no need for additional Google accounts or GSuite user management. 

The most significant advancement in security for the use of Android in business was undertaken by Samsung, Koeneman added. "Samsung has developed nearly 1,500 APIs making the Samsung version of Android the most-supported Android manufacturer for EMM solutions. Samsung has gone on to develop a suite of security features under Samsung Knox (SAFE) and Knox Premium."

Since 2014, Android has made steady advancement in security and centralised management making it suitable for use in business.  These advancements have been executed by Google and open source contributors in the OS itself but also by EMM companies like Mobile Iron as well as device manufactures such as Samsung.  The key decision for a business is to select the appropriate set of Android related vendors for EMM, applications, and security.  This choice will centre around cost, ease of use, and security capabilities.

Mobile devices have rapidly become ground zero for a wide spectrum of risks that includes phishing attacks, a range of malware families, unauthorised applications as well as vulnerabilities within the devices operating systems. "Therefore, having many layers of security protecting the most critical information will help mitigate these risks," Davison said.

"Mobile devices do come with many protections as should be expected but that alone will not stop malicious attackers from exploiting these flaws. To counter this growing problem, businesses that are deploying such devices need to look towards implementing post-perimeter security which is dedicated to the protection of corporate data when accessed by devices outside the corporate perimeter."

Rahul Mahna of EisnerAmper believes that Android is and will continue to be an excellent selection for a business' goals. He advises companies wanting to migrate to Android for Business to:

(a) tightly map out their business process;

(b) understand what their goals are; and

(c) prioritise risk management to their shareholders and stakeholders of that process.

"When that plan is in place, perform a thorough due diligence to find the right vendor for the hardware as well as compliance software to implement the customisations and controls needed to enable that business workflow to happen securely and efficiently."

Zebra Technologies' Harold Reeves, Senior Manager of the North America Regional Product Management Team, said: "If your company is on a legacy OS, like Windows CE and/or Handheld, there are certain steps that should be taken to effectively migrate your existing applications to Android. Customers should be wary of Android device providers with little to no experience in developing and introducing Android-driven products. It can be difficult to develop the tools, applications, expertise and community needed to seamlessly integrate Android into the enterprise."

He stressed the importance of doing your research and picking a committed and experienced partner/manufacturer to guide your Android integration from initial staging and deployment to long-term device management.

While security concerns remain, the flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and openness have made Android for business an increasingly attractive option for companies looking to leverage the benefits of a mobile workforce.