Google’s New “Android for Work” Program Actually Puts BYOD to Work

Brad Shimmin
Brad Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • Google has at last launched its Android for Work program, prioritizing Android devices within the workplace through the separation of personal and professional data profiles.
  • But don’t look for Google to secure this data on its own; instead customers can look to partners AirWatch, MobileIron, SAP, Soti, MaaS360, Citrix, and others for full bore data security in the workplace.

Forget the Apple iOS and Google Android user wars. It doesn’t matter which one wins a user’s heart. In the enterprise, any enterprise willing to embrace the BYOD mindset, such questions just don’t matter. What’s important is the ability to make manageable and secure whatever crazy device users decide to bring into the workplace. But that’s never been an easy proposition.

Back in the good old days when BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (BES) ruled, IT pros knew where they stood in terms of locking down mobile data and controlling user access. These days, with IoS, Windows Phone, Android, and of course BlackBerry all in play according to the dictates of the day to day whims of enterprise users, something more flexible is in order, enterprise mobility management (EMM) platforms capable of securing each of these operating systems equally. Android has never really gotten with this program. And that’s been a problem, considering there are literally billions of Android users worldwide.

This week, at last Google made good on its 2014 Google I/O promise of making Android a more enterprise-friendly platform by introducing “Android for Work”, a program aimed at OEMs, ISVs and EMMs that promises to separate and secure personal and work data. Specifically, this program creates an isolated profile for data and apps (Google refers to this as a “Work Profile”) that is secure, encrypted and fully managed, residing right alongside unsecured user data and apps.

Software vendors and enterprise developers will be able to build a single Android app without having to wrap or modify that app that can support personal use while incorporating corporate security requirements (a la Microsoft Exchange integration within Android Gmail). The trick is that this capability relies heavily upon technologies introduced with Google’s newest OS, Android v5 (aka Lollipop), so legacy (read the majority of Android) phones will require some shoehorned concessions. Still, Google is working on those concessions. And the vendor has set up Google Play for Work, at long last allowing enterprise customers to securely deploy and manage apps without having to resort to sideloading techniques. So all of the pieces are there.

But don’t look for Google to secure this Work Profile all on its own. The idea is to let partners build to a single standard. That’s a huge deal, as evidenced by the sudden and significant spate of EMM vendor announcements of support for Android for Work. MobileIron, AirWatch (VMware), Soti, MaaS360, SAP, and Citrix have all announced support for Android for Work. These vendors understand security and will without a doubt go well beyond what Google itself can deliver in advanced features such as device/enterprise wipe, device-level passcodes, feature lock (camera, copy/paste, etc.), URL whitelists, user/root certificate installation, and most importantly app-level controls for both Google and third-party applications.

It will be interesting to see how quickly these vendors can take advantage of Google’s new Android for Work program and Work Profile capabilities. If VMware’s AirWatch serves as any sort of measure, the impact of this announcement will be both widespread and immediate. Already, AirWatch customers can set up user Work Profile capabilities using existing technologies (AirWatch Agent) and start segmenting, encrypting and controlling corporate data according to corporate requirements right next to personal data. Clearly it’s “game on” for BYOD Android devices within the enterprise.

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