IT managers are spending more time guarding against bad mobile apps

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New stats released by Zenprise, a mobile device management software provider, show just how much more of an active role IT managers are taking in managing mobile apps for workers.

Zenprise releases data each quarter about how its customers are using its product and found some interesting trends in the third quarter. One big one: IT managers are spending a lot more time managing apps.

That means both blocking and approving them.

Many people think of their IT managers as gatekeepers or the people who set rules that are best broken in order to be the most productive. But at least among Zenprise’s customers, IT managers are approving mobile apps at a faster rate than they are blocking them.

In the third quarter, Zenprise’s customers whitelisted 50 percent more apps than in the second quarter and blacklisted 39 percent more than the previous quarter. The number of Zenprise customers that blacklisted apps grew 10 percent and the number that whitelisted grew 29 percent in the third quarter compared to the second.

This trend toward more whitelisting is an important shift because it means that IT managers are proactively sanctioning applications rather than just serving as a gatekeeper to forbidden apps.

“Whitelisting gets to the notion of ‘we want you to use these apps because they make you more productive,” said Ahmed Datoo, chief marketing officer at Zenprise. “It’s an interesting change where the IT person has gone from saying 'no' to being an enabler.”

Mobile workers can take a look at that list of approved apps and actually find new ones that they weren’t using and that might make them more productive.

The kinds of apps that Zenprise most commonly saw approved include Adobe Reader, Evernote, Quickoffice, and Citrix.

Those also happen to be apps that help people use their phones or tablets instead of their computers, showing the shift toward those devices.

The kinds of apps that were most commonly blacklisted by Zenprise customers show a different trend. Curiously, among the most popular blocked app was Mail – an unlikely blocked app from the perspective of an IT person who presumably wants a mobile worker to be able to do email on the go.

So why is Mail on the list? Datoo said it’s because some of the more conservative businesses are starting to see the value in consumer devices like tablets and are deploying them in a very buttoned down fashion. “When they’re issuing these corporate issued devices, they tend to be function-specific,” he said. “So you use this one app or these two. With mail, there’s no need for it. Your job is to fill out this one form.”

The kinds of businesses making these types of deployments tend to be those with executives who object to employees using tablets or smartphones because they worry they’ll just play games all day. The response from IT is issuing the devices in a way that they can in fact improve productivity but they ensure that workers aren’t able to use them for much beyond the sanctioned app.

More of these kinds of deployments might come as iOS 6 devices fill the market, Datoo said. IOS 6 has a new capability called Kiosk mode that essentially prevents a user from existing an app. That would force workers, in a retail scenario for example, to only use the company authorized app and nothing else.

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