Android for Work fixes security and device management problems, but be warned—there are still major challenges to using Android in the workplace. You need the right phones and right enterprise mobility management (EMM) or mobile device management (MDM).

Best practices for Android for Work in the enterprise

Android might have 80% of the global smartphone market, but when it comes to the enterprise, iOS is the clear leader. Companies have been slow to embrace Android due to security concerns, device management problems, and (let's face it) Android not being a status symbol.

Google's new Android for Work finally addresses two of these thee problems with major improvements to business security and management. And newer phones are making Android a compelling option for many corporate users. But be warned; there are still major challenges to using Android in the workplace.

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Why enterprises should support Android

Before we look at that, though, why bother supporting Android? Apple would certainly have you believe that the iPhone is the only phone suitable for the enterprise, but there are good reasons to include Android in your BYOD programs:

  • Price: Android phones range in price from $80 to $800. An $80 phone is obviously unsuitable for many enterprise users, but a $200 Android is a great phone. Compare that to an unlocked iPhone costing more than $700.
  • Global availability: It is easier to buy Android phones in countries like South Korea. Just check out the list of countries that support Google Play services (which is pivotal to Android for Work).
  • Choice: The whole point of BYOD is letting employees choose the phone they use at work!

Price is clearly the dominant reason why companies are looking to use Android. Companies can reduce the investment in mobile hardware by one fourth by simply switching to Android. At these price points, technology is now disposable.

How Android for Work helps enterprises

Android for Work provides a consistent platform for managing, securing, and getting more out of Android devices. Google has built data separation, security controls, and standardized management tools on top of the Android framework so companies can more easily deploy a variety of Android devices knowing their business data is protected. End users also get peace of mind knowing their personal data remains private.

There are several benefits Android for Work provides:

  • Privacy: With BYOD or subsidized devices, employees sometimes are concerned that IT administrators can see what is on their devices. But only apps and data in the work profile on the Android device can be controlled. The IT administrator does not have access to view personal data or apps.
  • Management: Android for Work integrates with leading mobile management solutions such as MobileIron, AirWatch, MaaS360, and Citrix.
  • Pushed apps: Many companies still offer only standard PIM (personal information manager) tools like email and calendar. Android for Work now offers the option to add productivity tools such as Concur, Office 365, and custom apps. The administrator can choose to push specific apps down to the device.

How to set up Android for Work

Setting up Android for Work is different from running iOS in the enterprise. The primary difference is that you must involve Google. You will need the following to set up Android for Work:

  • An enterprise mobility management (EMM) or mobile device management (MDM) solution
  • Android phones that support Android for Work
  • A contact at Google that can verify your business and set up Google Play 4 Business to work with your MDM or EMM provider

Google will work with EMM providers to manage and deploy Android for Work to your company. Businesses can contact their EMM of choice to get the process started. (Google has a handy cheat sheet that steps you through what you need to do to run Android for Work.)

Google created Google Play for Work, which allows businesses to deploy securely any app in the Play catalog or internally developed applications. This is all accomplished through Google's partnership with leading management providers, ISVs, OEMs, and carriers to provide a broad selection of choices for companies that want to get the most out of Android.

Problems we encountered deploying Android for Work

Google is investing heavily in Android for Work, but early adopters should be warned. My team adopted Android for Work because we see significant value in adding Android to our mobile ecosystem, but being an early adopter comes at a price. Here are issues we have managed:

  • EMM support: Leading mobile management services are still adjusting to supporting Google's requirement of connecting with Google Play for Work as the app delivery model. Most of the MDM providers should have adequate support by early 2016.
  • Devices: Each phone manufacturer can deploy its own version of Android. Entry-level devices have the minimum level of support and seldom have any support post-release. The first round of Android 5 devices did not have the correct hardware to fully support the Android for Work profile and could not upgrade to later releases. Below is a current list of supported devices (and there will be a lot more in 2016).
  • Google is still learning: Google's ecosystem is a delicate balance of open source software (Android), Google Services, hardware manufactures, and phone carriers. Have you herded cats? The speed at which issues are eliminated is not fast.

The bottom line is that the current release of Android for Work is still evolving. It can be rolled out successfully if you do your homework. You should be OK if you use MobileIron as your MDM, if you use the phones listed in the next section. and if you ensure that your carrier will support the default phone without modifications. If you want to use different phones, a different EMM, or have specific requirements, then you will want to wait until 2016.

Not all versions of Android 5 and 6 are the same

A word of caution that will affect early adopters of Android for Work: Android 5.0 shipped without clear specifications for the Android for Work hardware requirements. Google addressed this issue with Android 5.1.1. Unlike the iOS ecosystem, which has a small selection of devices, the Android ecosystem spans thousands of devices. Many device manufacturers will ship and forget a device with very little support post launch.

Fortunately, Google is keeping an up-to-date list of devices with full Android for Work support. These currently include:

  • HP Slate Pro 8
  • Motorola Moto E
  • Nexus 5, 6 and 7
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge

At a price of just $130, the Motorola Moto E is a particularly interesting option. While it is not as fast as an iPhone 6s, it is still a capable phone and a serious option for many use cases.

The cost/benefit analysis will get even better in the near future. Android One devices that range from $60 to $80 will soon support Android for Work.

The big question: How secure is Android for Work?

The media like to write stories that expose weaknesses in Android's security. The issues are, for the most part, related to earlier releases of Android, before 4.0. Google is addressing the issue of security on enterprise Android devices head-on with the following:

  • Device-wide encryption: The first step in activating Android for Work is to encrypt the device. The process is similar to encrypting a PC.
  • Complete isolation of personal and professional data: The biggest strength for Android for Work is separating the data profiles for work and personal content. For instance, content for email is managed through two different profiles that cannot interact.
  • Work profile: The work profile places a badge icon in the top right-hand corner of an app to indicate that it is a company app. The EMM can install, remove, or wipe the data from a badged app but cannot see or interact with any personal app that does not have a badge.

The result is a tight, secure environment that gives enterprises the level of control they need to ensure that company data is ensured.

What is the future for Android in the enterprise?

Andrew Toy, Google's director of product management for Android for Work, sees Android as essential to companies. Toy said, "Android for Work will continue to expand to provide all manner of mobility solutions for businesses on an increasing number of screens. We're looking not only at serving traditional knowledge workers and executives, but we want to transform and improve many more work scenarios with Android. You can see that in the latest release of Android Marshmallow, which expands the capabilities of Android as a single-use or kiosk solution, for example a hotel lobby kiosk, a customized medical device, a menu tablet on restaurant tables, or a dedicated entertainment device for airlines. This is part of Google's larger commitment to provide the most innovative, secure technology for businesses with Google for Work."

The goal of Android for Work is to help companies achieve the same type of transformation and impact that consumers have gotten out of mobile devices. Google believes companies that use mobile to the fullest can be more competitive, innovative, and responsive to their customers. With Android for Work, Google wants to enable businesses to do more with mobility, beyond email and basic productivity. There is a clear desire to push past the idea of "mobile first" into an era where businesses have mobility woven into the fabric of what they do.

Google is also putting its checkbook where its mouth is. Toy stated that thousands of people at Google are now working on future releases of Google for Work. Finally, Google is taking the enterprise seriously.

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Topics: Mobile