If IT’s idea of enabling iPads and other mobile devices is to allow users to connect to Windows desktops and applications through remote desktop clients, then users are sure to be driven to third-party applications. “Of course we enable consumerization! Our employees can use an iPad client to connect to a virtual desktop anytime they want,” is just another way of saying, “We really don’t understand consumerization at all, so let’s just have the users resort to whatever random applications and services they happen to find.”
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Remote desktop clients for mobile devices are getting better all the time, and Bluetooth keyboards and virtual trackpads on touchscreens make desktops on mobile devices able to approach being usable. However, there are a few vital flaws with having remote desktops be the solution for enabling mobile device usage.
First of all, who wants to use a full desktop OS when there are device native apps around? (Which email app would you rather use for your iPad--remote hosted Outlook running on Windows via a remote display protocol, or the device native mail app?) If I want a full desktop, I’ll reach for my laptop. Users are sophisticated enough that they differentiate between use cases for their devices. People who want to do real work on their tablets are probably already carrying Bluetooth keyboards around, meaning that they’re carrying around just as much weight as a MacBook Air or an Ultrabook.
Second, there’s the no offline access problem. (Enough said!)
Both of these problems could result in one of two scenarios: In the first scenario, the user reaches for their laptop instead of the mobile device. (After all, it’s pretty light, it’s more powerful then a tablet, it can actualy be used for real typing, and it does everything!) If the device that is now being ignored is corporate owned, then it becomes a $500 paperweight. Also if it’s corporate owned, it’s probably limited just a few company approved applications. If these applications are a just a remote desktop client and maybe some PIM stuff, then what exactly was the company wasting its money on when it bought the tablet?
In the second scenario, if the user brought in their own tablet, then it’s “Hello device native apps!” The remote desktop client will be ignored, just like on a corporate-owned device, but since this tablet isn’t corporate managed, the employee can use it to access corporate data with whatever apps make them the most productive. Will these apps be secure? Who knows? All the employee knows is that they can now be much more productive. The corporate firewall can be circumvented using any one of the traditional methods: Dropbox (or whatever file sharing/syncing service hasn’t been noticed and blocked by the IT department yet), applications that feature their own synching, or the simplest method of all, emailing data to a personal account.
If an IT shop has gone as far as providing users’ devices with access to corporate data, then that’s a great start. That company has made a good faith effort, whether it was with something like a corporate Box account or with software that provides access to the company’s own storage. Unfortunately, simply providing access to the data itself is not going to be enough. Did that company restrict users’ “open in” capabilities? If not, then they have opened the door and put out the welcome mat for crazy, unsecure third party applications. If the company did restrict what users can do with data once it’s on mobile devices, will the amount of access be satisfactory? In addition to providing access to the data itself, IT has to provide or whitelist appropriate applications. If none of the tools that employees really want to use are provided, then it's back un-trusted third-pary apps. (FUIT in action.)
Whether employees are using company owned tablets or if there’s a BYOD program in place, IT must go the whole distance and provide not only access to data but also applications to work with it. If only it were as easy as just providing a remote desktop client... Unfortunately, users will not be satisfied and will want a device native experience. If native apps are not provided by IT, then users will head to possibly unsecure third-party applications and services.