How Unified Policy Management Can Enable Business Flexibility, Productivity and Security

December 19, 2019
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co-authored by Alex Cherian
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5 min read

Do laptops have a place in the modern workplace? With more than 57 percent of enterprise internet usage occurring over mobile devices as of 2017, according to BrightEdge, and Gartner predicting in 2018 that 80 percent of worker tasks would take place on a mobile device by 2020, it is easy to believe that mobile has already taken over. However, Windows devices still have a valuable place in the mobile workplace and businesses need to be able to support these devices.

In the past, employees have been burnt by the different requirements and behaviors of apps and management tools, limiting the productivity benefits they were meant to provide. And businesses have found that having inconsistent security policies can leave holes in their posture. Embracing technology that enables the delivery of a unified policy will make businesses more agile and improve employee productivity.

Mobile Devices Can Increase Productivity, But Not for All Tasks

Mobile devices’ compact design, always-on internet connection and easy-to-use suite of apps created a workplace revolution. Employees are no longer constrained by a cumbersome deskbound device; instead, they are able to work from home, a client’s site or even on the road. The benefits for business have been monumental: According to Frost & Sullivan, using portable devices for work tasks can increase productivity by 34 percent and save employees 58 minutes per day.

However, it should be obvious that mobile devices are not the panacea for all tasks. Even tablets, not limited by the small screen size of phones, have failed as an all-in-one work tool. It seems that there are some tasks that can’t be done without a physical keyboard and mouse.

Windows devices offer several clear advantages over mobile operating systems, which has kept them at the core of business productivity tools for:

  • Typing speed — Unsurprisingly, physical keyboards are faster than their touchscreen equivalents, with a 2019 analysis from Aalto University finding that people type 25 percent faster when using a physical keyboard as opposed to a virtual keyboard.
  • Multitasking — Computers with windowed applications that can be endlessly resized, facilitate multiple tabs and can be viewed in parallel offer extremely flexible multitasking capabilities. In comparison, even modern smartphone or tablet operating systems have limited multitasking features.
  • Complex work — With more powerful processors, laptops are able to crunch numbers far more quickly than their mobile counterparts, making nearly every task faster and more efficient.
  • Precision clicking — Certain cursor actions are difficult to mimic on touchscreen interfaces, and clicking is inherently less precise.

Lightweight, highly portable laptops are commonplace in many offices. And the relatively new two-in-one form factor is proving to be a popular choice for office workers, demonstrated by its continuously expanding market share.

Challenges When Managing Too Many Services and Devices

Managing laptops and mobile devices has not been an easy process for businesses. In the past, in an effort to support different platforms, organizations were left with no choice but to implement a patchwork of different services. Typically, businesses have had to introduce new tools to manage the use of new types of applications, deploy and provision different device types, or provide access to internal systems via external connections.

The result is that even a relatively small technology stack can often have an overwhelming amount of administration. The oxymoronic complexity of a comparatively simple stack also makes organizations inflexible, since changes need to be applied through various technology layers. Being slow to react to change means that businesses can lose valuable time introducing new products or services, potentially missing the market on opportunities and causing real value to be lost.

Productivity on the employee level also drops as workers must navigate the different tools throughout their workday. A major source of wasted employee time is caused by inconsistent experiences due to differences in:

  • Applications — Diverse applications lead to many different requirements that need to be supported. Some apps may have strict security requirements, others may have single sign-on (SSO). The inconsistency means that some tools are left unused and work is not conducted as efficiently as a result.
  • Devices — Difficulties in setting up a device can mean that suboptimal devices are used to complete work, meaning that tasks take longer than necessary. This could be because mobile devices aren’t empowered with access to desktop resources.
  • Connections — Being unable to adequately connect to cloud applications may mean that some employees prefer to wait until they return to the office, causing delays due to lost time.

Businesses also face real security risks: The inability to effectively implement security policies across devices creates weaknesses in cyber defenses. It is not uncommon for malicious actors to utilize a range of infiltration points to launch an attack. Increasingly, hackers that find themselves unable to easily penetrate initial target endpoints with valuable data will not simply give up and move elsewhere. Instead, those attackers target another device in the fleet with weaker security. Once control is established, the device with weaker security can be used to upload Trojan viruses to the cloud or to target other weak devices within an organization.

Having inconsistent policies across devices means that businesses face losses in productivity and increases in security risks. Managing different technologies with different policies creates undue complexity for admin teams and prevents business flexibility.

Unified Policy Management Offers a Simple Solution

Implementing unified policy management could help smooth the wrinkles in business front and backend systems. Driven by a single policy, employees have a consistent, seamless experience regardless of the application, device or connection they are using. This approach also improves the business’ flexibility as IT administrators only need to manage one source of truth.

One of the first technologies to embrace these principles was unified endpoint management (UEM) software deployed to manage a mobile fleet. Unlike its predecessor, mobile device management (MDM), UEM can manage nearly all device types regardless of their form factor or operating system. Embracing this technology across the entire fleet is a good first step that businesses can take to alleviate the strain caused by managing different systems.

Although a UEM solution can push apps and configurations to different devices, it alone is not enough to create a consistent user experience that encourages productivity gains using technology. For example, a Windows version of an application may require an eight-character password — which is reused by the employee a dozen times for different systems — and a cumbersome VPN connection, whereas the iOS version may only need the user’s fingerprint.

Build a Unified Policy With Both Horizontal and Vertical Integration

Implementing unified policy management means more than just being able to integrate horizontally across different device types. To create a unified policy, there must also be vertical integration within the technology stack, allowing different technologies to work together in concert.

To help manage access and security for mobile devices, mobile threat defense (MTD) services are often implemented to help businesses protect their data. In the mobile world, MTD and UEM services are often integrated, with the two services sharing information and acting together to form a consistent policy. MTD services that extend beyond mobile phone and tablet form factors to laptops enable businesses to begin creating a unified business policy.

Choosing UEM and MTD services that can integrate with each other and support a business’ entire device fleet enables better flexibility, productivity and security benefits. Having a unified policy also means that conditional access decisions can be more intelligent, as they are driven by information from more sources, and more effective, as they can be applied more widely.

Businesses wanting to implement a unified policy should review the capabilities of their existing UEM and MTD services to see if they are fit for purpose. For the greatest benefits, services should be able to integrate vertically across technology services as well as horizontally across device types.

Michael Covington
Vice President of Product, Wandera

Michael Covington, Ph.D., is vice president of product for Wandera, which specializes in mobile security and data management. He previously held leadership r...
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