June 14th, 2012

Geofencing & Mobile Access Gateways

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Category API, BYOD, Mobile Access
 

GeofencingOne of the cooler features offered by Siri on the iPhone is its integration with the internal GPS for geofencing. For instance, you can tell her (yes, I just anthropomorphized a disembodied mobile phone app) to “remind me to pick up some milk when I leave the house”. While this geofencing application is very consumer-centric and a nice-to-have, geolocation (and geofencing) is often a must-have for enterprise mobile apps.

At Layer 7, our enterprise customers are sometimes constrained by industry regulations regarding data privacy. These restrictions, especially in the healthcare and financial services industries, often prohibit medical or financial data from traveling across international (or even state) borders, to ensure compliance with local regulations. Some may require additional forms of authentication when connecting from a new physical location.

Many enterprises are also rolling out BYOD initiatives based on the employee’s proximity to company offices – they can use their own phones to access company data while in the office but that access is restricted when they head for home. More complex GIS integration is sometimes necessary for mobile employees and field technicians.

Building strict geolocation rules into every mobile application is possible but time-consuming to develop and difficult to maintain. Managing these policies in a centralized Mobile Access Gateway allows flexibility of design and easy updates. Compliance auditing is simplified and policies are reusable and configuration-driven. If you want to tighten distance restrictions or change GIS providers, you only have to make the change once.

Layer 7′s SecureSpan Mobile Access Gateway is far more than just a simple API proxy. It provides mobile-specific features around identity, security, adaptation, optimization and integration. It is these integration features that allow powerful orchestration of third-party APIs (including geolocation), legacy applications and mobile notification services for a truly comprehensive Mobile Access solution.

May 30th, 2012

Where Did Siri Go?

IBM Versus SiriRecently, there’s been some media focus on the limits of BYOD, especially relating to businesses disallowing certain smartphone features. This article on IBM’s somewhat restrictive BYOD guidelines mentions outright bans on technologies like Dropbox and Siri. As an ex-IBM employee, a geek in a partner-facing technical role and a smartphone user, I’m particularly intrigued by the lines drawn by corporations in cases like this.

As the variety of available business apps and mobile devices continues to grow exponentially, enterprises will find it increasingly difficult to place such rigid limits on BYOD. Employees are already beginning to feel entitled to use apps that make them more efficient. In some case this may mean that employees will knowingly use banned apps. If businesses want to avoid this kind of insubordination, they will have to work with their employees, not against them.

One part of the solution is a focus on education rather than overly-strict technological bans. Another is embracing the concept of BYOD rather than fighting it. For instance, many of our customers provide their own apps to run on employee-owned devices. We focus on providing these customers with solutions that allow them to make BYOD secure and manageable, without having to ban apps or impose invasive mobile device management software.

The rest of the solution will come from Cloud and mobile vendors taking steps to make their technologies more enterprise-friendly. This means, for example:

  • Apple will need to recognize its prevalence in the enterprise market and take steps to certify iCloud and Siri for business use.
  • Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive will need to deliver terms of service that assuage fears rather than fostering them.

No one has all of the answers yet and I suppose you can’t blame IBM for a cautious approach but the most successful BYOD initiatives are likely going to be those that are flexible enough to avoid alienating employees. How else will we know what happens when Siri is asked to open the pod bay doors?

May 10th, 2012

Talking Mobile Strategy at the Forrester Forums

Forrester ForumsLast week Layer 7 sponsored Forrester’s CIO and Enterprise Architecture forums in Las Vegas. These were great conferences with various tracks covering such lofty concepts as “business strategy” and “innovation”. But the track that was getting everyone talking – and driving attendance at the Layer 7 booth – was about mobile strategy.

CIOs have started to recognize that – with BYOD gaining strength – mobile is coming to business, like it or not. The many CIOs who came by our booth all seemed determined to address the issue head-on. For some, this will mean developing apps in-house; for others, enabling third-party app developers. In either case, the key to success will be publishing secure, robust APIs.

Publishing mobile APIs raises various questions for CIOs. Some of the questions we heard in Vegas are external corollaries of challenges we’ve been solving for years (“How do I expose a REST API when my data is delivered via SOAP services?”) Others are completely new (“What happens when someone with our app on their personal smartphone leaves the company?”)

These issues also arose during an interesting session called “Navigating the Mobile Shift.” At this session, after some input from Forrester analysts, everyone split into groups for brainstorming on problems (and solutions) in specific categories. When each group presented its findings, security and governance questions were at the top of every list.

These forum participants aren’t from mom-and-pop startups – they’re with large enterprises that have serious security, governance, performance and scalability concerns. Helping enterprises address these concerns for API-based integrations is Layer 7’s core business, so we’ll be eagerly following future developments in enterprise mobile enablement and BYOD.

April 25th, 2012

BYOD is a HUGE Opportunity for Mobile App Developers

API Portal for Mobile DevelopersCalling all mobile app developers! You have the whole IT world in your hands. Mobile migration represents a shift in IT as large as the PC explosion of the 80s or the Internet boom of the 90s. And mobile apps will prove to be the major driving force behind this shift – exerting an even greater pressure than the devices that run these apps. For evidence of this, have a look at the launch-day download stats for Instagram’s Android app.

Up to this point, apps have focused mainly on consumers. But with the BYOD (“bring-your-own-device”) movement’s unstoppable momentum driving mobile devices into the center of the enterprise IT landscape, there is a growing need for enterprise apps that give employees the user experience they are used to with consumer apps. That means a decent chunk of the $3.8 trillion spent on enterprise IT this year could be heading to mobile app developers like you.

Building mobile apps for the enterprise is going to create some new challenges, though. Perhaps most significantly, you will be much more reliant on enterprise data and applications. That’s going to mean a lot of work integrating the functional requirements for your apps and even more work nailing down the non-functional areas like security, scalability and availability. Nevertheless, these challenges are well worth accepting, given the stakes.

The good news is that Layer 7 will be out there making things easier for you. We help enterprises expose data and applications as RESTful APIs, significantly simplifying integration with mobile apps. Additionally, our API Portal product helps developers discover and get maximum value from enterprise APIs. It’s an exciting time for mobile developers and we’re excited to be laying the foundation upon which a generation of enterprise apps will be built.

March 21st, 2012

Implementing BYOD-centric Systems

Implementing BYOD-centric SystemsIn recent conversations with our service provider partners and customers, I’ve been hearing a common theme: their enterprise customers are scared of BYOD. The recent trend of employees using their own technology – iPads, smart-phones etc. – to connect with corporate assets worries them. Their main concern is that they won’t be able to keep up with the security and management requirements that go along with this new method of accessing data assets.

While there are existing solutions for playing keep-up, many of them rely on isolation and restriction to prevent corporate assets from traveling too far from the enterprise. Unfortunately, I think employees – especially the more tech-savvy among them – will resent having corporate security policies installed on their devices or being limited to separate-but-equal wireless networks with limited access to the resources necessary to do their jobs. By focusing on containment and control, enterprises are missing an amazing opportunity to make BYOD work for them.

The efficiencies gained by embracing the inevitable and implementing some BYOD-centric systems should not be overlooked. Layer 7 customers are creating mobile applications designed specifically to support their employees, whether their devices are employee-owned or provided by IT.  Our solutions for security and governance of the APIs used by those applications can prevent data leakage, protect against incoming threats and provide access to only appropriate personnel.

So, whether your employees are baggage handlers determining the destination for a piece of lost luggage, nurses providing care to house-bound patients or remote employees connecting to their peers through a corporate directory and communication hub, the real winner is the bottom line. BYOD and mobile workforce enablement are opportunities to embrace – not afflictions to be cured – and we’re here to help.