People love their mobile devices; between gaming, social media, and simply browsing the web, more and more people are turning to a smartphone or tablet for their personal computing needs. For many, work now represents the most time they spend on a traditional desktop or laptop computer. This shift in personal computing is only going to get more pronounced as mobile devices get cheaper and more capable; why even bother purchasing a home computer for web browsing and light work when your tablet or even phone is already more than capable of it?
It’s only natural that those same personal computing habits start to bleed into working hours. Users have started bringing their smartphones and tablets onto the work network and whether the administration likes it or not, it’s inevitable. Pushing back against users bringing their own devices, or actively trying to block them, adds aggravation and stress for everyone involved. Workplaces today seem to be faced with a simple choice: adapt to the changing times and institute a well thought out Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, or waste valuable time trying to fight a coming tidal wave.
To help workplaces cope with the changing landscape of personal computing, Google has unveiled “Android for Work,” which the search giant hopes will reign in the billions of Android devices and get them ready for their new part-time jobs as business tools. While it still won’t be easy to balance BYOD and overall security, standardizing a framework for the world’s most popular mobile operating system is definitely a step in the right direction.
“Android for Work” builds on the multi-user support included in Android 5.0 by adding a dedicated profile on a user’s phone or tablet that separates business related applications and data from the user’s day to day profile (older releases of Android will require the installation of a special Android for Work application). When a user is under their personal profile they can use the device as they would normally, but once they switch over to the work profile, there is a completely different set of applications which are visually set apart by a small briefcase overlay on their icons.
Google has also included “Google Play for Work”, which allows administrators to whitelist applications that can be installed while users are running their work profiles. Businesses can use this to not only control what applications are being run on their network, but to distribute their own internal applications without having to put them up on the main Google Play market or sideload them manually onto every users’ device. Applications can even be silently installed or removed remotely, so internal applications required for work can be automatically installed, or previously whitelisted applications which have found to be troublesome can be purged.
It’s even possible to remotely wipe just the Android for Work profile without interfering with the rest of the files and applications installed. So if a user is no longer with the company or decides to stop using their personal device, the work profile can be remotely wiped and everything will go back to the way it was.
Half the Equation
Android for Work is definitely a big improvement to how mobile devices integrate into the business environment and will certainly help many businesses which are looking to strike a balance between convenience and security; but it still doesn’t solve the BYOD problem. The most glaring issue is, of course, users who bring in their devices without telling anyone. Android for Work can only control the devices which have been registered by the administration, it does nothing to control personal devices which users simply bring in and connect to the network without permission.
Users sneaking in their personal devices without permission of the administration is arguably the crux of the BYOD issue to begin with. A complete BYOD solution still requires vigilantly protecting the network against incursions from any and all unknown devices. Deploying Android for Work won’t mean much if a user can freely connect their device to the network without anyone knowing about it.