Today at Mobile World Congress, AirWatch, IBM, JAMF, and MobileIron announced a new organization called the AppConfig Community. The AppConfig Community is oriented towards developers and promotes the usage of EMM vendor-neutral mobile app management features that come built into iOS, Android for Work, and Windows 10.
As with any conversation about MAM, it’s important to understand the underlying technology to know where the AppConfig Community will have the most influence and and where it will have less. Overall, though, this is an unprecedented collaboration among major EMM vendors, and that’s great for the industry.
AppConfig Community origins
The AppConfig Community is the successor to the VMware-led App Configuration for Enterprise (ACE) program, which came out at Mobile World Congress a year ago. The new group is quite similar to ACE, but is formed and run by the four founding EMM vendors instead of just VMware. The founders came together because they’re all part of Apple’s mobility partner program. ACE is going away, and all of the ISVs that were part of it are getting rolled into the AppConfig Community.
These days all of the mobile OSes have some MAM features built directly into the device: When a device is enrolled in MDM, companies can take advantage of: DLP and work/personal data separation; per-app VPN; single sign-on; device encryption and password protection; app deployment; and app configuration. Most of these will work with any app and don’t require the developer to do anything special, but some do.
The AppConfig Community will educate developers on best practices to take advantage of these MAM features. The idea is to help developers avoid proprietary MAM SDKs or app wrapping tools, and that apps built to the AppConfig Community guidelines will be more attractive to the enterprise. Right now the AppConfig Community is focusing on iOS, with Android and Windows 10 coming next. (You can still read about Android features on the old ACE website, though.)
One of the bigger new contributions by the AppConfig Community will be a standard XML schema for configuring managed iOS apps. iOS managed app configuration allows developers to define settings in an app that can be configured when apps are deployed using MDM. This is useful for filling out information like server addresses or port numbers, or otherwise customizing enterprise apps.
These app configuration settings can be anything a developer wants them to be, which is very powerful, but results in a certain amount of work for IT to do—they have to figure out the settings and get them all loaded into their MDM server to push down with the apps. With the AppConfig Community’s XML schema, common configurations are standardized, and can be built directly into an MDM server and admin UI, simplifying the deployment process.
All of the features that the AppConfig Community is currently advocating are good in scenarios where companies can enroll devices in MDM.
However, there are also many use cases where companies can’t or don’t want to enroll devices in MDM (such as some BYOD users, or contractors that work for multiple companies). Or companies may want more advanced management and security features that aren’t provided by the device. In these situations, companies have to rely on apps that have these features built in directly.
The AppConfig Community will be very useful for developers and an excellent resource for device-based MAM. What I’m hoping is that this collaboration will go beyond promoting the frameworks that are already part of mobile OSes and work on guidelines and best practices for other types of MAM, as well as influence OS makers as they also address remaining EMM challenges.
Congratulations to AirWatch, IBM, JAMF, and MobileIron for getting together to start the AppConfig Community; keep up the collaboration, and let’s see how much farther it can go!