By Johan Scheepers, Systems Engineering Manager at CommVault South Africa
There is no escaping the changing face of modern business. The traditional picture of a company located in an ‘easy-to-travel’ to building where employees physically work alongside each other, in a fixed and networked computing environment, no longer rings true.
Fifteen years ago, the typical mobile worker was probably a Chief Information Officer (CIO) with a laptop, heavily supported by IT and restricted to basic offline computing operations. Furthermore, widespread support for remote workers was not available and, even if it had been, the technology that would have supported them outside the office was limited.
However, the new breed of mobile workers is now transforming the modern working environment. Armed with technologies that not only bring flexibility into their working day and improve productivity levels overall, they can now experience an enhanced work/life balance by being able to work anytime and anywhere.
Any early technological limitations on the emerging mobile worker have now largely been eliminated as broadband data speeds and wireless mobile connections have become widely available. Equally the range of mobile devices has expanded well beyond mobile phones and laptops to include PDAs, smartphones and now tablets. Mobile initiatives are also being proactively put in place by many organisations and telecommuting, virtual workplaces, mobile and wireless computing are now common practice, for all employees at all levels.
It was therefore no surprise to learn that IDC predicted in its report, Worldwide Mobile Worker Population, 2011-2015, that one-third of the global workforce would be mobile in just three years.
However, facilitating and managing the mobile workforce is no mean feat. The rise of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement confirms that mobile employees expect to use the latest lightweight mobile devices to carry out both standard and complex computing activities. Users also expect interactions with enterprise applications to replicate their experiences in the consumer world. Their growing familiarity with search engines and the ease with which business applications can be downloaded onto any mobile device has only raised expectations that they should be able to share, search and restore data instantly – without requiring IT assistance or third-party services.
The challenge for the IT Department therefore lies in its ability to protect the increasing amounts of data that is created by users outside of the enterprise whilst still meeting the demand for a mobile lifestyle. In a clear reversal of roles, instead of stipulating what systems and processes should be used by employees, IT professionals now need to provide services that deliver real value to the user. For IT to regain and retain control of sensitive corporate data and safeguard assets from loss, destruction or damage, it has to embrace its role in enabling the productive, collaborative and secure self-service mobile computing environment that users now expect. It has to provide users with a sophisticated alternative to ad-hoc and un-regulated data storage on USBs or the subscription based consumer cloud solutions chosen by employees to address short term needs. It also needs to provide a centrally managed solution that makes it easier to store and retrieve information ‘on the go’ whilst simplifying compliance and eDiscovery for everyone across the organisation.
According to IDG Research Services, “76% of organisations say secure access to company data from mobile devices is critical¹ “which suggests that IT professionals need to address some fundamental issues if they want to protect data at the edge of the organisation.
For users to be able to access old documents indefinitely or all of their most recent files instantly, from all of their devices and regardless of the computer they were created on, automated file and folder synchronisation is essential. The aim here is to make data fluid, not isolated, so that it can be shared across laptops and desktops but more importantly be accessed from smartphones and tablets, particularly as the trend to use the most portable, user friendly device is set to continue. Furthermore, by supporting different environments and Operating Systems (OS), automated and continuous synchronisation (which should be differentiated from traditional backup that is scheduled to take place at given intervals) should enable users to immediately access the right document, even if they have inadvertently deleted it on one device, when they need it.
The ability to search and retrieve data, immediately and without waiting for IT support, is also a must-have capability for employees who are increasingly expected to be able to refer to either historical data or the latest figures at a moment’s notice. Given that 80% of organisations report that IT spends a lot of time retrieving files for people1, it’s therefore also important that the IT department finds a new way to provide access to data in order to reduce pressure on the helpdesk and focus on strategic, long term projects. Self-service access to protected files and emails via a mobile application (app) on smartphones and tablets, or via a web browser and natively within Windows Explorer would benefit an increasingly IT literate workforce. This would also immediately provide an extremely effective method of access to a secure, personal ‘data cloud’ that is then managed centrally. It could also therefore eliminate the use of high-risk consumer file sharing tools (which can be prone to human error) and ad-hoc cloud backup services (which are outside the IT department’s awareness and control and virtually impossible to restore). However, it’s worth remembering that users are only likely to use a corporate self-service application if they are confident that ‘standard’ search engine functionality and ease of use is guaranteed. Intuitive, role-based search capabilities across all enterprise data are also needed in order to simplify often complex eDiscovery and compliance requirements.
Transparent protection for business critical data on mobile devices that can be easily lost or stolen or unintentionally damaged by the user is also essential. In order to guarantee fast restore times, the IT department needs to be able to backup thousands of devices in an instant, ensuring that it has the latest versions of every user’s files at any given time. The best way to achieve this is by utilising flexible policy definition and opportunistic scheduling to provide a wide variety of customisable backup options to suit each user, and using inbuilt intelligence to only run a backup if a file has changed, for example. It’s this heightened level of centrally-defined yet automated processes that will improve mobile data protection without any involvement from the user. Bandwidth throttling to optimise backup efficiency will also help to protect distributed data with existing network resources. This should also help to ensure that there are no disruptions during backup process where connectivity is poor which could result in an inability to retrieve files at a later date.
Whichever way you look at it, what is increasingly clear is that creating a content-indexed central repository of distributed files and documents that is stored and maintained on a dedicated corporate server is a key factor in making synchronised, self-service access and data protection at the edge work. The ability to collect, protect, access and retrieve data across disparate locations, across the organisation, on multiple devices to a constantly fluctuating number of users means that IT professionals will increasingly need to rely on data management tools to automate the entire process.
It’s also then perhaps obvious that in order for IT to reduce the management costs associated with deploying, setting up and managing distributed yet scalable data protection, it must be able to create policies centrally and then apply them quickly to different user groups. It must also offer end-user initiated installation or automate silent deployment across thousands of devices if all data is to be protected across the organisation.
The mobile workforce is undoubtedly calling for far more than the usual ‘insurance policy’ that traditional backup offered, combined with the often costly levels of storage that was needed for the vast amounts of data that never again see the light of day. If they aren’t already, most corporates will soon be relying on the IT department to transform essential data management tasks into something of real value. This, in turn, will empower users to turn raw data into invaluable information that can enable effective decision making at the edge of the enterprise. That’s something that every CIO should be comfortable investing in.
¹Source: IDG Research Services. Market Pulse Research: Impact of Data Silos and the Demand for Anytime, Anywhere Information Access. Published: February 2013.