Microsoft continues its fast push into mobile management

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Credit: Nathan E Photography via Flickr

Introducing app management and other features.

Microsoft today announced additions to its Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) that illustrate the scope of the company's plans in the enterprise mobility management (EMM) space. Microsoft originally unveiled the EMS suite of services alongside Office for iPad last month. The suite is an extension of Microsoft's Windows Intune, the company's cloud-based Windows PC and device management platform, that last fall gained the ability to manage iOS and Android devices as well as PCs and Windows Phone handsets.

One of today's biggest announcement is management of Office mobile apps across multiple platforms including iPad, iPhone, and Android through Intune and Office 365. The management capabilities will be rolled out later this year and mark Microsoft's entry into the mobile app management (MAM) space.

Although Microsoft's plans for app management additions will first be focused on the mobile versions of Office and Office 365, Microsoft is planning to go beyond its own mobile apps. The company plans to include MAM capabilities that can be used to manage apps already deployed (or being considered for deployment) on mobile devices using app wrapping capabilities.

In addition to providing management of Office (and other apps), Microsoft will be delivering Outlook Web App -- a secure, mobile version of the company's Outlook designed for access on mobile, which will support caching of content for offline access. Microsoft Vice President Brad Anderson, who leads the company's management tools business and delivered the keynote of the Microsoft's TechEd conference in Houston, described customer dissatisfaction with secure email apps from other EMM vendors as one driver of the push to bring a secure version of Outlook to mobile devices.

Whether this will be widely embraced by mobile users remains to be seen. Generally, users from both consumer and business markets tend to prefer native apps to mobile web apps, a distinction between mobile and desktop computing where users are more likely to use a mix of native and web-based applications. The move will also compete with Apple's built-in Mail app on iPhone and iPad, which in iOS 7 supports managed accounts that provide a level of security and data leakage protection. It also implies that Microsoft may be planning to bring a native version of Outlook to mobile devices.

Microsoft also plans to leverage its Azure platform and Remote Desktop Services to deliver Windows applications to a range of mobile devices. The new solution, Azure RemoteApp, was previewed during Anderson's keynote at Microsoft's TechEd conference. Initially the service will be focused on delivering remote access to Office, but the company plans to offer support for additional apps in the coming weeks. Effectively, this will allow users to access a range of workplace and productivity apps from mobile devices anywhere there is cellular or Wi-Fi Internet access.

Microsoft is in it to win it

These new features, announced just a few weeks after the EMS itself, demonstrate that Microsoft is determined to iterate its mobile and cloud services at a rapid pace that is faster than what one typically expects from the company. In January, Anderson told me that Microsoft would deliver new features at a clip similar other other cloud companies like Google and Box. This latest announcement underscores that commitment.

As with Office for iPad and several features of Windows Phone 8.1, the company is showing that, though it might prefer to have its own mobile devices and services dominating the market, it sees tremendous opportunities in supporting users and IT organizations across the full spectrum of mobile devices and platforms. That approach has the potential to deliver incredible value to business users and enterprise IT.

One of the primary advantages that Microsoft can offer IT departments is the ability to provide broad and in-depth enterprise mobility management that leverages their existing skills and investments in Microsoft's enterprise infrastructure solutions. For users, Microsoft can offer a consistent experience across devices and PCs using a familiar set of productivity tools.

This continued focus also shows that Microsoft is willing and able to leverage resources from across the company to create a single end-to-end solution. In discussing the new EMS features, Anderson noted that Microsoft leveraged the knowledge and experience of its App-V team in developing its new MAM features.

Over the past few years, we've seen a good deal of consolidation in the EMM space as companies devoted to specific management and provisioning capabilities have steadily merged those capabilities through acquisitions or strategic partnerships. Microsoft has the talent, knowledge base, ability to scale, and relationships with enterprise customers to create most of these capabilities in-house and the potential to capitalize on internal resources in ways that other players in the EMM space may not.

Microsoft also has an advantage in entering the market later than most other companies as that gave the market time to mature, winnowing out EMM concepts and models that delivered sub-par results in terms of capability, cost, complexity of implementation, and user satisfaction. As I've noted before, one of the key points that Anderson often makes around mobility is the importance of user satisfaction, particularly on devices owned by users in a BYOD context. As he put it to me last month: the user is the absolute authority" on his or her device.

It's important to keep in mind that the EMM market and enterprise mobility itself is still in the very early stages of evolution and that little, if anything, is set in stone in this space. Going forward, however, it definitely seems that Microsoft will position itself as a force to be reckoned with.

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