Enterprise mobility: Overcoming data access and system integration roadblocks

Always-on remote access is a mini digital transformation project in itself. Here’s how to work toward a seamless experience for all employees.

The pandemic has made one IT function more critical than any other in the modern workplace: remote connectivity.

In the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns and overnight work-from-home mandates, IT departments the world over have been scrambling to retain optimum employee connectivity, while maintaining previous levels of speed, security, and operational resilience.

This means Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) is now a key objective in every large organization. If you’re part of an enterprise IT department, your team is likely prioritizing complete work mobility for the whole organization.

You need to start by redefining your enterprise mobility processes – the set of technologies and policies that enable employees to make full use of devices that they choose (whether company- or self-owned) to meet business objectives. You’ve got to give them the tools, applications, and resources that let them connect to the company network using the infrastructure available at their location, while ensuring that data security and compliance requirements are met at all times.

Looking at the big picture, achieving total, on-demand enterprise mobility is a mini digital transformation in itself. While the variety of devices involved and security vulnerabilities are persistent and oft-discussed issues, the core challenges lie in:

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  • providing anywhere, anytime data access
  • making diverse systems talk to each other
  • delivering a consistent, intuitive user experience
  • reducing TCO to achieve a reasonable ROI from the technology infrastructure

Let’s examine two critical roadblocks that prevent you from achieving seamless enterprise mobility, and the solutions available for overcoming them.

Patchy data access

“COVID-19 has made work from home a universal and lasting reality in more verticals than ever,” said Saahil Panikar, Principal Consultant at Project & Team, where he leads digital enterprise workshops. “This only serves to drive home the promise of enterprise mobility – access to all the apps, files, and data that employees need to maintain not just business continuity, but also sustained levels of productivity,” he adds.

There are two basic concerns on the user side:

Connectivity: While this is the obvious one, mobile carrier networks and broadband services across the world have made sure there are few areas left unconnected by very good internet services.

Devices: Users might not always have the best devices at home to access the applications that facilitate their role in the business. This problem is easily solved by providing them with machines with adequate processing power and input/output systems. In fact, most workers today are happy with BYOD practices in place at many organizations.

The challenge at the enterprise end is more complex. You need to build an EMM solution  consisting of diverse systems (more on this later) and make them work together to simplify device and app management, configuration, and operation, as well as enable better collaboration over the internet and company networks.

In the context of remote work, this means enabling employees to access corporate workloads, apps, and resources seamlessly and, equally importantly, at full speed.

The infrastructure solution for this is a modern End User Computing (EUC) system – or more specifically, a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) implementation – that allows large numbers of users to log in to enterprise data centers simultaneously from multiple locations and run the same set of OS and applications as they would within a company network.

Today, Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) has emerged as “VDI in the cloud,” allowing end users to run any application in a browser. While the applications actually run on-premises or on a public or private cloud, they are packaged and delivered to the end user in the form of a “desktop,” saving enterprise IT teams the need to design, procure, deploy, and manage the hardware and software needed to keep operations going (and scale them).

JM Finn, a UK-based wealth management firm, leveraged VDI and DaaS to the hilt when the pandemic hit in March 2020. Almost overnight, they shifted 400-odd employees (who needed access to heavy duty financial and stock trading apps) to work from home. Some of these employees were power users with high-end machines and up to eight screens, but the VDI over private cloud delivered instantaneous, secure and always-up connectivity.

“These are dealers and traders who require zero lag time and have zero tolerance for system downtime. But they are very impressed with the technology,” said James Cosson, Head of IT at JM Finn. “It’s running like lightning!”

Poor system integration

Remember those diverse components of an EMM solution I mentioned earlier? At the very least, they include mobile application management (MAM), mobile device management (MDM), mobile information management (MIM), identity and access management (IAM), and unified endpoint management (UEM) systems.

And these are just part of the EMM platform – we aren’t even counting the apps and frameworks that enable the core business workloads and functions.

The modern enterprise needs a complex pool of systems and architectures, including ERP, CRM, GIS, and so forth over hybrid cloud environments, all needing to be interconnected, automated, and kept running smoothly at all times.

Integrating the sheer number of endpoint devices with the entire stack of enterprise applications, and keeping them synchronized at all times, is a constant nightmare for IT teams, given the extent to which BYOD and remote work have increased fragmentation in the ecosystem.

The explosion in SaaS apps in the last decade is both part of the solution and problem. A report from Blissfully found that the average enterprise has nearly 300 SaaS apps in use across various departments.

The diversity of applications and platforms and differences in personal preferences of employees (which are accorded more respect in today’s user-centric enterprise) only increase the complexity of system integration. Information silos quickly emerge in these gaps. A file residing in a desktop can’t be ported to a smartphone here or a server won’t send critical data to a mobile device there, and soon you have a breakdown in multiple workflows.

Part of the solution is to build a cloud “mediation layer” that facilitates data exchange between disparate applications. These applications can talk to each other via a centralized cloud.

Another step is to offload all processing and centralize it within the cloud. This makes the environment somewhat like the client-server model of yore, with the cloud serving as a “mainframe” and all connected devices simply act as “dumb terminals” hosting virtual sessions. Of course, the infrastructure needs to be supported by load balancing and caching systems to reduce latency.

DaaS comes to the rescue here too. Creighton University implemented a DaaS solution that allowed students and professors to access lab applications and statistical modelling and analytics software without having to download it on their laptops. This resolved the perennial problem of students complaining about not being able to access or upload course materials.

“We have a uniform-level application layer that acts and handles the same for everybody. Professors no longer have to worry about what devices students are using or how to ensure everyone can download the needed software for their classes,” said Robert Daniels, IT Support Specialist at Creighton. “We took the professors out of the IT business.”

The reality of remote

Remote work and mobile workplaces are here to stay. An Upwork study estimates that by 2025, 36 million Americans will work remotely, more than double the 16 million before the pandemic hit.

“Enterprises will need to solve the challenges in data access, collaboration, security, compliance, and UX sooner rather than later if they want any semblance of business-as-usual,” Panikar stressed. “The employee is already at the center of the modern workplace. The onus lies on IT to build and deploy technology that balances user needs with business needs.”

Mobility of work is no longer an add-on or perk – it is one of the core values that define work-life balance today. If you can provide an intuitive and consistent user experience to your employees at all times, wherever they are, you can rest assured innovation and productivity will never cease in your organization.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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