Sep 25 2013

The New iOS 7 Is Ready for Business

The latest release of Apple’s operating system offers companies new access and flexibility.

When it comes to keeping up with the latest and greatest, iOS users are among the fastest adopters in technology. The latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 7, was released on Sept. 18. After only a week, there are already 200 million iOS devices running iOS 7, according to Apple.

This figure is double the number of devices that were upgraded to Apple’s previous version of iOS 6 in a similar time frame, reports Business Insider.

Compared with Android devices — which must stagger their updates on a gradual schedule as manufacturers evaluate and approve the OS upgrades device by device — the iOS ecosystem is able to flip the switch quickly once a new version of the OS hits the streets.

For companies with bring-your-own-device environments, this can mean an influx of new users on an operating system that hasn’t been fully tested, which can result in hiccups and questions about the new OS.

Mike Golz, a senior vice president and CIO of the SAP Americas division, isn’t too worried about iOS users getting lost in the new user interface.

“Our experience from the past is that transitions on the iOS side happen very seamlessly for the end users,” he says. “There's some advice in our discussion forums, and we have a social media platform where we share information about devices and apps, but it's not like we have this big awareness campaign or training program.”

iOS Devices Get a Healthy Helping of Security

One of the biggest concerns about enterprise mobility is security. Companies worry about keeping confidential information private and users worry about keeping personal information out of the wrong hands if a mobile device goes missing.

Smartphone theft has become such an epidemic across the nation that several states have written to mobile device manufacturers asking for more extensive security measures in future software and hardware releases, according to a report from The New York Times.

Apple has responded to this outcry with new fingerprint technology in the iPhone 5s and with the new Activation Lock authentication feature in iOS 7, which requires login credentials to be entered before a phone can be wiped and used again. That makes a stolen phone less useful to any would-be smartphone snatchers, which hopefully will deter thieves from stealing iPhones and iPads in the first place.

The New York City police department is so enthused about the new security features in iOS 7 that it’s actively encouraging New Yorkers to upgrade to the new OS as soon as possible.

While physical theft is a big concern, Golz is more excited about the data security benefits of iOS 7. Per-app VPN management in iOS 7 allows IT managers to set security specification on an app-by-app basis. Mobile device management hooks have also been enabled that will help IT departments more easily manage fleets of devices and integrate with third-party MDM products, such as SAP’s Afaria solution, which the company uses internally as well.

“The ability to push out more configuration into apps — not only push the app itself, but also configuration into the app — those things are in line with what we believe needs to happen to run mobile environments at scale,” Golz says.

And scale is something Golz can speak from with experience. SAP has 71,000 mobile devices active across the company, and 73 percent of those are iOS devices, he says. The company manages its devices from a single database and pushes companywide policy updates with ease using its MDM solution.

The new security features keep the user in mind as well. Apple has rolled out enterprise single-sign-on, which allows authentication with corporate back-end systems to be used for accessing mobile apps. That means users don’t have to log in to their corporate networks over and over again as they switch between corporate and personal apps.

Embarking on the Road to iOS 7

Because SAP has a BYOD policy in place, some early adopters have already upgraded to the new OS. From an IT support perspective, Golz says this is allowed, but the IT department makes no guarantees in terms of application and device reliability and compatibility.

“If you look at what's happening right now, apps are being posted on the iTunes Store with all these fixes for iOS 7,” he says. “And that's the same requirement that enterprises face when you look at their own enterprise apps and, potentially, custom built apps. So for us, we have about a seven-day window between the release of iOS 7 and a recommendation to users that it is now ok to upgrade to iOS 7.”

Other companies with compliance considerations may take longer to evaluate iOS 7, but they shouldn’t wait too long to offer guidance to their employees as that may encourage rogue IT behavior among users.