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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Seeking Absolute control over your iPad and iPhone

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver December 21-27, 2010 issue #1104 High Tech Office column

The High-Tech Office story of 2010 is the explosive impact of Apple’s iPad – not the first tablet computer, but the first to see significant sales. (The story of 2011, I suspect, will be whether non-Apple tablets become significant players.)

In November, New York’s Gartner Inc. technology research company lowered projections for worldwide PC sales in both 2010 and 2011, noting that the company expects tablets will “displace around 10% of PC units by 2014.”

While primarily marketed as consumer devices, tablets and other mobile devices are increasingly showing up in small and large organizations.

Devices sold for consumers have snuck into businesses before, but these iOS devices – iPads and iPhones – are often brought in by upper managers who then want them supported by IT staff.

The result: a recent survey of 1,200 North American IT professionals by mobile services vendor BoxTone Inc. reported that 28% planned immediate iOS deployment, with 73% expecting to do so within the next year – the most of any device, according to a different study by the Aberdeen Group.

Up until recently, however, IT departments lacked the tools to manage business use of iPads and iPhones. Imagine trying to add an app to a thousand devices, one at a time, using Apple’s iTunes music player!

Apple’s recent iOS4 upgrade added a mobile device management service, allowing third parties to develop software to secure and manage large numbers of iOS devices. One of the first to become available is from Vancouver-based Absolute Software.

Absolute, perhaps best known for its Computrace and Lo-Jack products for tracking lost laptops, bought LANrev management software in 2009 from Germany’s Pole Position Software, rebranding it as Absolute Manage. Initially offering asset management for Windows and Macintosh PCs, the company recently added Absolute Manage Mobile Device Management for iOS4, available both as a stand-alone product and as part of the company’s Absolute Manage suite.

Absolute CEO John Livingston told me that the company recognizes that entrepreneurs are using a growing range of devices and that IT departments are realizing they’re here to stay. Absolute’s mission, he said, is to ensure that businesses can manage these new mobile devices and that they’re used securely.

Livingston added that Absolute’s iOS management software offers companies multiple capabilities.

Emergency services response features include the ability to remotely wipe data or to lock or change the password on a lost or stolen device. Missing devices can be located and recovered.

IT staff can configure multiple iPhones and iPads, remotely installing software and operating system upgrades, inventory and track devices, and even disable the cameras. Companies can send email and password policies and configure virtual public networking, making it possible to use the iDevices to securely access business networks.

All these features work remotely over 3G and Wi-Fi connections – no need to plug devices, one at a time, into a computer with iTunes.
Being able to deploy apps is a big plus – this allows organizations to create customized software and distribute it internally without needing to make it available publicly on Apple’s iTunes App Store. In effect, organizations can use it to manage their internal app stores.

Absolute vice-president Peter Frankl touts the software’s asset inventory manager. It lets IT staff gather more than 60 fields of information about the company’s iPhones and iPads: phone numbers, serial numbers, installed apps and even whether individual devices have been jail-broken. As well, customized messages can be sent out – either to individual or multiple devices.

According to Livingston, Absolute is planning similar management support for the increasingly popular Android platform (used on mobile phones and tablets from Samsung, Motorola and others) early in 2011. 

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