Reflections on Mobile World Congress: Enterprise apps coming to new form factors
Even with a show as large as Mobile World Congress (MWC), with over 100,000 attendees, it was pretty clear that a lot of companies are pushing forward to win a share of two related markets; virtual reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
MWC saw a large number of VR headset announcements from Samsung, LG, HTC, Oculus, Google, Epson, Gear VR, and Fujitsu – which was specifically focused on enterprise applications. A primary driver for a somewhat global network upgrade to 5G is that 5G will serve as the backbone for a more data-centric IoT world.
But for app developers who seek to create the apps that will power the use cases for IoT and VR, and enterprises that ultimately consume IoT and VR services, there is a less clear future ahead.
What is certain is the need for security and management built around the apps and the users of these technologies. As these markets are still being defined, participants are running at breakneck speed to get to market first. Business models are the focus while security has taken a back seat to functionality as product teams are racing to meet the demands of current and developing market segments. For this reason, developers will have less time to focus on security capabilities, but agile methods for applying policies to ever changing apps and services can offload security from developers’ shoulders.
With a broad set of hardware vendors, the device layer will be even more abstracted from developers, so it will be even more important for security to be baked in at the app layer. For both these reasons, we see mobile app management (MAM) as a key resource for IoT developers that want to quickly build apps, wrap security policies around those apps, and push them out to hardware partners.
A key need for the enterprise when it comes to IoT and VR will be the need to verify the "Thing", and that it truly is the right sensor or VR device that is providing data or connecting to enterprise backend systems. Particularly given the processing and connectivity constraints that come with these devices, traditional security and endpoint management approaches may not work. A lightweight app level approach will provide authentication and encryption for data and services running on a wide variety of these devices.
App developers looking to target IoT and VR devices should look at the evolution of the EMM market. While device management initially solved many challenges, it is becoming increasingly clear that the critical point of vulnerability is the app. For VR, most devices will be displays with limited capabilities to process and store enterprise data. In IoT, the cost of the device may be so low that having that device be lost or stolen is not a significant concern.
This creates a concern that malevolent actors could hack a device’s software to manipulate data and impact real world decisions that can harm a company’s bottom line or, even worse, the health and safety of employees and customers. For this reason, security and management at the software layer becomes most important.
While we are some ways off from widespread use of IoT and VR, as organisations contemplate the deployment of these technologies to help or augment current business processes, we recommend that they keep security at the forefront of their minds, and in particular, protecting the apps and services that will be powered by these devices.
This year at MWC, in nearly every booth there was something tied to IoT or VR, but in only a few cases in which vendors also provided ways to secure these tools. It was good to see the excitement building around these new markets, but as happened with smartphones and more recently tablets, that excitement soon dies off when the cold reality of IT requirements hit home.