Google Launches Android for Work Program

The tech giant will deliver a range of enterprise mobility-management capabilities in collaboration with partners.

Android for Work

Google has launched an Android for Work program under which it has partnered with several vendors to deliver a range of enterprise mobility-management technologies for organizations looking to securely manage personally-owned Android devices in the workplace.

Google will focus on four key mobility management technologies under the effort.

For mobile devices running the Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system and above, Google will offer a work profile feature that will let IT organizations separate and segregate approved work applications from personal apps running on an Android device. The new work profile feature will let employees use personal devices at work without fear of their personal content being erased or viewed by IT, said Rajen Sheth, Google's director of project management for Android and Chrome for Work.

Google has developed a separate Android for Work application for devices running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich to Android 4.4 KitKat and also for any other Android device that does not support the work profile feature natively. The new application delivers mail, calendar, contact, browsing and other capabilities that can be wholly managed by the IT organization Sheth said.

The third component of the Android for Work program is an enterprise version of Google's mobile application store. Google Play for Work will make it easier for IT organizations to distribute approved applications to personally owned Android devices at work and to exert better control over every deployed app on such devices.

In addition, Google has created a new suite of business apps for email, contacts and calendar, which supports both Exchange and Notes, Sheth said.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst with Gartner said what Google is doing is making Android more amenable to the enterprise.

Generally, it is hard to take an operating system that was originally consumer use and enhance it for business applications, Dulaney said. But Google has made a decent job of it with Android for Work, he said.

As one example he pointed to the work profile feature available on Android 5.0. The feature allows Android users to have two separate environments for work and personal use on the same device in almost the same manner that Windows has supported for years on its desktops and PCs. It allows users to have just one copy of an application, like a PDF reader for instance, but use it in separate domains created for work and personal use.

“Google seems to be talking to enterprise people. They seem to be asking what’s needed,” Dulaney said. “They are trying to bring features that you need to secure and manage the device,” he said.

But this doesn't mean for example, that Google intends to get into the enterprise mobility management business, he said. Rather it is to enable better EMM support in Android, Dulaney said.

The technology vendors that Google has partnered with under the program include BlackBerry, MobileIron, SAP, MaaS360, Samsung, Sony and HTC. The focus of the partnerships is to deliver capabilities that will give IT organizations true enterprise-class mobility management, secure business applications and devices.

"Together with a wide range of management, application and device makers, we believe the Android for Work program provides businesses and workers with the choice and flexibility they need to get things done at work," Sheth said.

Google's new program is clearly designed to address the growing challenges IT organizations face from bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. In recent years, BYOD policies have resulted in a huge influx of personally owned devices at work, many of which operate outside the IT organization's purview and knowledge.

Security experts have voiced their growing concern over the trend and warned that enterprises face substantial data loss and malware infection risks by allowing unmanaged personal devices in the enterprise.

Dozens of vendors have emerged in recent years offering a wide array of tools for mobile-device management (MDM), mobile-application management (MAM) and mobile-content management (MCM). The technologies, like those announced by Google today, are designed to give organizations a way to harness the productivity and other benefits of mobile technologies in a secure manner.

Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy for MobileIron, said Google's new Android for Work app should help address some of the security concerns associated with BYOD use. "Google clearly understands that simplifying Android management and security is critical to enabling broad enterprise acceptance," Rege said.

Given that a large percentage of the world's smartphones run on Android, enterprises do not really have a choice but to accommodate its use at work. "An organization will have to support Android in order to get the maximum benefit from their mobility strategy," Rege said in emailed comments to eWEEK. "Android for Work offers enterprises a tremendous opportunity to increase support for Android users in a BYOD program," he said.

Meanwhile, in a separate announcement, BlackBerry said it is working with Google to enable its BES12 enterprise mobility-management suite to manage devices equipped with Android for Work. "Android for Work with BES12 will provide customers with another option to enhance their mobile security and the productivity of their employees," BlackBerry Executive Vice President Billy Ho said in a statement.

Editor's note: This article was updated with additional comments from Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.