In 2019, look for AI-enabled mobile devices – and a UEM push

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This year, artificial intelligence will continue its push into mobile hardware and enterprise communication devices, challenging IT shops' enterprise mobility management (EMM) capabilities while at the same time offering potential security benefits.

Also in 2019, voice-activated assistants such as Amazon's Alexa and Cisco's Spark Assistant will find their way into more corporate offices and conference rooms –  becoming yet one more enterprise device encouraging the adoption of a unified endpoint management (UEM) strategy.

"I do think 2019 will ring in a very disruptive era for personal devices," said Werner Goertz, a Gartner research director. "Virtual personal assistant speakers – these Alexa devices, these Amazon Echo devices – they've been rolled out into enterprises, into hospitality scenarios...and they're becoming manageable by IT professionals."

A little more than a year ago, Amazon announced Alexa for Business "an intelligent assistant to simplify their interactions with the technology around them at work." The voice-activated assistant can be used by enterprises to automate functions such as booking conference rooms or starting and hosting remote meetings.

In an earlier report, Gartner said spending on VPA devices would top $3.5 billion by 2021, starting with a push this year into the hospitality and remote healthcare industries. "Enterprise adoption will drive further market growth through a fragmented portfolio of specialist devices," the report said.

Joining Amazon and Cisco in the VPA realm are Apple, Microsoft and Samsung, with each adding voice capabilities to either stand-alone speakers or smartphones. This year alone, 20% of smartphone interactions will take place via VPAs, Gartner said in a report.

"The other thing to recognize regarding VPA devices is they're communal; they can be overheard by others and that poses security risks and requires behavioral changes. It will take time for IT and HR to get arms around this fact and devise processes and rules for secure management of these disruptive devices," Goertz said.

AI and its potential to ease tasks

AI is also being introduced into enterprise communications via BYOD devices, transcending the classic laptops and mobile phones employees have traditionally used for work, Goertz said. He argued that what is being deployed today is technically more akin to machine learning, but advancing quickly.

The BYOD market is expected to grow at more than 17% annually over the next four years, according to a report from ResearchAndMarkets.

The idea of mobile devices powered by AI is not an if, but a when – because tasks and interfaces are becoming so complex that users will otherwise spend too much time trying to get to apps and information that's required for them to be productive, said Jack Gold, principal analyst with J. Gold Associates.

In a recent technology brief, Gold noted that devices powered with AI will provide a number of benefits.

"First, they will become much more secure. As they learn about us, they will be able to understand if we are using the device or if someone else is. This will prevent stolen credentials allowing someone to hijack our devices. And it will allow us to eliminate passwords to all the sites we access, making life far easier," Gold said. "While much of this sounds highly futuristic, it's not that far off."

Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm, Google, Huawei and others have already started down this path at the chip, OS and device level, Gold pointed out. Specialized AI subsystems in current devices with somewhat limited capabilities will improve over the next year or two, morphing into much more powerful capabilities.

As a result, the typical use of devices, the types of apps users have, and the variety of interactions between people and devices will change dramatically, and that will lead to an increasingly complex interaction environment that by necessity will be made  manageable. "And that would be a very good thing," Gold said.

UEM gaining ground as a management strategy

With new devices and more sophisticated interfaces, enterprise IT shops will feel pressure to move toward a unified endpoint management strategy that allows for the management of all corporate devices under one interface.

"I expect most EMM/MDM suites to migrate towards full-blown UEM suites that not only manage PCs in addition to mobile devices, but also incorporate tools to manage the fast approaching Enterprise of Things (EoT) deployments most companies will undertake in the next 2-3 years," Gold said via email. "Further, traditional MDM/EMM vendors will have increased competition in this space from the companies focused on empowering EoT infrastructure solutions in the cloud such as Google, Microsoft, AWS, etc. Enterprise will therefore have to reevaluate their UEM vendors in the next 1-2 years to find an optimum future-proof solution, with migration to newer solutions/vendors likely.

In a most basic sense, EoT is the corporate version of the Internet of Things – the myriad sensors and bits of software embedded in electronics that promise greater connectivity and data exchange between the virtual and physical world.

For example, vehicles and assembly line machines now come with IoT sensors that communicate information back to manufacturers about performance and parts degradation. Smart buildings contain IoT sensors that not only relay internal environment data but can automate HVAC systems based on employee behavior.

In an Computerworld opinion column, Gold pointed out that if enterprises are struggling to deal with BYOD demands, EoT will present an "order-of-magnitude-bigger challenge.

"EoT will have a profound effect on an organization's infrastructure, including its network connectivity, VPN, identity access management, security infrastructure and management functions," Gold wrote. "Further, it will have a major impact on mission-critical corporate systems like data storage and access, databases, enterprise back-office tools (e.g., ERP, CRM), data analysis and business information systems and corporate governance, to name but a few."

Over the next few years, it will be virtually impossible to deploy a manageable and secure solution for the vast array of devices and components at work without the enhancements available from embedding AI in the products; as a result nearly all UEM vendors will look to add those capabilities.

And in the next year or two, expect to see a major migration of companies upgrading their suites with AI technology needed to both protect and defend additional end point device. Those upgrades should also help relieve the increasing burden on IT by simplifying management complexity, according to Gold.

For example, Microsoft has increased the number of devices that can be managed via its InTune UEM subscription service and EMM software vendor MOBI recently announced it's adding laptops, desktops, wearables and IoT sensors to devices under its management console (as well as a UEM reporting tool).

Shifting away from Windows management

Driven by corporate BYOD programs, hardware management is shifting away from a Windows-dominant world to one that is increasingly diverse and includes iOS, Android and Apple desktop hardware. Gartner predicts that 80% of worker tasks will take place on a mobile device by 2020, increasing the momentum behind UEM.

"Companies need to evaluate new solutions not only based on management capability, but also on the burden on IT, which AI will help to reduce substantially," Gold said.

While "hugely important," however, UEM will not be adopted en masse in 2019, according to Goertz.

UEM tools must first mature. But more importantly, IT managers who've only recently managed to secure their Wintel environments are wary of deploying any overarching management strategy.

"Beginning [in] 2019, conceptually it is something that will disrupt classic BYOD management, but given how ultra conservative IT leaders and CIOs are, especially when it comes to securing applications, [UEM] adoption will only be seen in bleeding-edge enterprises," Goertz said.

Longer term, Gold said, EMM and UEM vendors will have to offer a viable solution to end-point management and security, which will lead to an increase in security-heavy vendors such as Cisco acquiring UEM firms – and UEM vendors acquiring security products. For example, Blackberry, a UEM vendor, acquired AI and cybersecurity vendor Cylance late last year and cited both UEM and EoT as reasons for the purchase.

"This will require enterprises to consider how best to select a composite security/management vendor going forward," Gold said. "But this task will be made easier by the continuing shift towards cloud based solutions that have less of a burden in making changes of capabilities/components, and even the changing of vendors."

Computerworld

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