Exchange ActiveSync and BYOD

It's pretty well-established by this point that Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) is the standard connection protocol for mobile devices. It's probably the single biggest underlying factor in the rise of mobile computing and the bring your own device (BYOD) movement in business IT. Even BlackeBerry-maker RIM has begun to adopt EAS for some of its products, including BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10, to provide compatibility with Microsoft Exchange Server 2013.

A couple of infographics about BYOD landed in my Inbox this week. The first, produced by TrackVia from a variety of sources, makes the case that BYOD is already solidly entrenched in most businesses. Although much talk about this trend might see it more as a coming thing, the highlighted stat here is that 80 percent of employees are using personal devices for business purposes, even while only 53 percent of organizations report having an official BYOD policy. There seems to be some lag in executives' belief in the benefits, but overall, BYOD tends to lead to more productive and creative employees and a positive worker experience. You can view the complete infographic on TrackVia's website.

Detail from Webalo infographic on mobile trends and BYOD

The second infographic came from Webalo and focuses on factors driving BYOD change in businesses. The key stat in this report is that 98 percent of workers claim they would be more productive if they had mobile access to enterprise data. In other words, just about everyone wants to be connected all the time, on the go, on whatever device they have handy. The graphic also shows that while smartphones are still the most common request for BYOD support at 59 percent, tablets come in at a respectable second place with 32 percent. You can see the full infographic on Webalo's website.

Although EAS underpins the BYOD explosion, the increase of available devices and form-factors is another big element. In addition to new top-of-the-line smartphones coming out seemingly every month, tablets are now touted as the death of desktop and laptop computers, whether or not you believe that point of view. Both tablets and smartphones continue to get more powerful, which means more able to perform meaningful work. Microsoft's Surface might well be the best example yet of a true enterprise-capable working device; Paul Thurrott has written a nice example of the Surface RT for doing real work on the go.

London-based analyst firm Ovum has also come out with a report that shows another reason for the spread of BYOD and mobile computing: full-featured business intelligence (BI) apps are now available for most mobile devices. As the Webalo infographic pointed out, employees want access to business information, and at some point that has to move beyond simple email. However, it takes a good BI application to make data useful. In the best cases, you want your data and reports to sync seamlessly across whatever device you're using. Ovum points out Information Builders, MicroStrategy, and Yellowfin as companies with useful BI apps.

With employees connected to corporate data and working on the go, naturally that puts additional strain on the network and raises security concerns. EAS can be used to provide security and network access control, although it's not the same as using a full mobile device management (MDM) product. Further, with Exchange 2013, MDM isn't an area of improvement. According to a blogger on EnterpriseMobileDevice.com, "what is glaringly missing [in Exchange 2013] is the addition of enhanced ActiveSync capabilities. Mobile device management, IT Managers, and Exchange administrators all were hoping for greater device management and security capabilities to be baked into an updated version of ActiveSync."

A lot has been said recently about Exchange 2013's shortcomings (by me, by the remarkable Redmond, and others). So it's worth noting that Exchange 2013 does, in its way, recognize the rise of BYOD. Some admins might not like the purely web-based administration through Exchange Administration Center (EAC), but one facet of such management is that it allows you to manage your Exchange environment from multiple devices. The simplified, Metro-style UI of EAC and Outlook Web App (OWA) are optimized for touch screens. So even while there are problems in these implementations, they are at least forward-looking.

The line between what makes a consumer versus a business device is blurred, if not non-existent, and employee demand for mobile computing and BYOD are most likely here to stay. If you haven't done so already, learning the best ways to manage devices and connections should be high on any Exchange admins list.

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins
Follow Windows IT Pro on Twitter at @windowsitpro

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