The Battle for Mobile Content is Just Starting

Battle for mobile content managementWith MobileIron’s $100 million IPO filing announcement on April 7th, it may seem like the battle for mobile management is coming to an end. All of the major players have been acquired, have gone public, or are determined to go it alone. In less than a year, we have seen: VMware acquire AirWatch, IBM acquire Fiberlink, Good Technology acquire Boxtone, and Oracle acquire Bitzer Mobile. Of course, all of this was preceded by the granddaddy of all these acquisitions: SAP’s acquisition of Sybase (or perhaps more accurately, SAP’s acquisitions of key technology and talent such as John Chen – who, incidentally, is now leading BlackBerry into their new frontier).
At this point the only standalone mobile content management solutions seem to be Good Technology, MobileIron, Samsung KNOX, and Microsoft. Does this mean that the battle for mobile supremacy will quickly disappear as mobile capabilities are subsumed into larger virtualization and infrastructure players?

Hardly. We have barely even started with the mobile content wars. It is popular to think that the next great mobile war will be around application management. Why not? We love apps. Apps are cool. Everybody has his or her favorite app. But before we jump the gun, there is another great battle in mobility to control business assets that are less cool, yet more important. The battle will be over documents, aka the data itself!

Right now, there is an all-out Battle Royale for the future of document and content management and it is being played out on multiple fronts. Blue Hill would summarize the landscape of mobile content management solutions into four market categories:

- Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) Vendors
- Secure File Transfer Vendors
- Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Vendors
- Content Cloud Vendors

Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) Vendors: The Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) vendors come from a background of device or application management and have quickly moved into content management and document sharing. Key players in this space include: MobileIron, AirWatch by VMware, Fiberlink, Good Technology, Tangoe, Apperian, Soti and BlackBerry.

One of the big advantages that these vendors tend to have over their competitors is their knowledge of hardware and carriers, which helps them to handle content at rest on the device. In general, all of these vendors have secure strategies for handling content on the device, providing a secure container for content, and for using two-factor authentication to handle identity and authentication. However, this two-factor authentication is often done poorly since many vendors use the popular technique of a One Time Password (OTP) SMS sent to the phone. In actuality this provides very little security as the user is presumably using the same device to access data and validate the passcode. Only some of these vendors have the cloud back-end needed to synchronize content across multiple endpoints immediately. Others however, are dependent on linking to other corporate file sharing systems such as Box or SharePoint.  Later this year BlackBerry releases their new BlackBerry BES12 enterprise mobility solution that is application-enabled and unifies BES10 and BES5 to one platform.  The BES12 core capabilities is what the future of EMM looks like if you’re to play in this space and consider yourself a market leader.

Secure File Transfer Vendors: A second group of vendors also seeking to handle mobile files and documents are the secure file transfer players such as Accellion, Biscom, Citrix Sharefile, Druva, Egnyte, Ipswitch, mimecast, Onehub, SugarSync, Syncplicity by EMC, Workshare, and YouSendIt. These vendors allow users to securely upload, download, and send files over to coworkers and clients. For industries with specific end-to-end secure transfer compliance specifications or companies that require process or anti-virus integration with their document transfer processes, these vendors may end up being useful as well.

Secure file transfer has been an underrated market for some time, partially because its value proposition is in-between several other technologies. It excels in supporting file sharing not just from a cross-platform synchronization perspective, as the Dropboxes of the world can do, but also in replication, enterprise-level policy management, and version control.

The challenge with secure file transfer solutions is that they come in as middleware and companies still need to purchase or own an existing content management system. This is a big hurdle to overcome for those solutions that do not have organic or partnered add-ons for back-end file storage.  Blue Hill plans to look deeper into this later in Q2.

Update: 7 May 2014
After a briefing today with Ryan Kalember, Chief Product Officer of WatchDox, I would strongly recommend WatchDox for secure file collaboration.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Vendors: A third category of vendors involved in content management are the traditional Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors that have been holding documents over the past decade. The players in this space aren’t anyone surprising and include Microsoft SharePoint, OpenText, EMC, IBM, Oracle, and SAP. They have taken a traditional desktop-server based approach to content management and are the current incumbents in this space. But all of these companies are now being asked to provide mobile solutions as well.

These companies have taken different paths to provide mobile content management. OpenText has been an acquisitive market leader and owns many of the patents for mobile content management, which has led to its recent lawsuit with Box. EMC acquired a standalone mobile content management provider called Syncplicity, which we’ll mention in the next set of solutions. Microsoft has acquired Yammer and greatly improved the native mobile and cloud capabilities of SharePoint. At this point, all of the major players in the traditional content management space have mobile applications. However, their challenge is that the legacy functionalities associated with their desktop and web solutions are often translated too literally into their mobile solutions, leading to a clunky and awkward user experience.

Update: 28 April 2014

After a briefing with the company I would add AirWatch by VMware into the mix as a strong mention in two added categories. It’s ‘Secure Content Locker’ is both a secure file transfer solution as well as a mobile content management solution. The Secure Content Locker can also be sold standalone from its EMM platform.

Content Cloud Vendors: And finally, there is a new set of vendors and solutions based on cloud backup that make content much easier to manage on mobile devices. These companies include Box, Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, EMC Syncplicity, and Egnyte (although you may want to avoid their YouTube commercial which I found amazingly creative and on the marketing fringe!).

Although the market is awkwardly calling these solutions “Enterprise cloud file sync & share”, Blue Hill Research would rather just call these “content clouds.” After all, we know that the cloud is inherently sharable based on access. Anyone who has ever used iTunes or an Android phone takes mobile-cloud sync for granted. So, why dance around capabilities that every consumer takes for granted? Let’s just talk about the “content clouds” that are out on the market.

Because these services were built on the premise that drag-and-drop and cloud-based synchronization were basic functionalities, they are the easiest of all of these categories of solutions to implement and manage. In today’s age of simplicity, ease of use will make up for a lot of flaws. In that light, there are a few vendors that have stood out.

Box is the enterprise darling in this space, between its $414 million in funding and its stated goal of taking on giants such as Microsoft and EMC. In response, Dropbox has recently started to go to market with its Dropbox for Business offering, which is reminiscent of Apple‘s initial steps into the enterprise in 2010. It may be hard to remember now, but Apple’s biggest obstacle back then was the lack of enterprise support. Dropbox needs to take notes on how Apple expanded its business focus over time to be taken seriously, since Box has already built this support structure.

Both Microsoft and EMC have their own offerings in this cloud-based space. Microsoft has recently come out with Skydrive, which looks like a standalone product to compete against the core functionality that Box and Dropbox provide. EMC, on the other hand, has taken a different route with their acquisition of Syncplicity. Although Syncplicity also started as a secure mobile-cloud content solution, it is increasingly being used as the mobile interface to directly connect to other EMC products as well such as EMC Isilon directories. This is an interesting direction that other companies in this space should consider. If these cloud-based synchronization solutions could connect more natively to one or more of the previously mentioned categories, these next generation solutions would be a bridge to the past rather than a rip-and-replace.

All in all the battle for content management is heating up as the world works to establish the new mobile standard. IT decision makers will benefit as the functionality arms race raises the collective bar.  Let the games begin…

About Ralph Rodriguez

Ralph Rodriguez is the CEO and Research Fellow of Blue Hill Research and an industry expert across cloud, mobile and security technologies. Ralph brings over 25 years of experience spanning IT management, research and entrepreneurship in a variety of executive CxO roles. Previously Rodriguez served as COO of Nucleus Research, Inc., SVP and Research Director at Aberdeen Group (NYSE:HHS), CTO of Brooks Automation (NASDAQ:BRKS), EVP-CIO of Excelon Corporation (NASDAQ:EXLN) and EVP-CIO of C-bridge Internet Solutions (NASDAQ:CBIS). Rodriguez is currently a Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and holds a Sc.D. in information systems and a graduate of the management program GPMD-MBA at IESE Business School, Barcelona Spain. Rodriguez is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War.
Posted on by Ralph Rodriguez

One Response to The Battle for Mobile Content is Just Starting

  1. ” their challenge is that the legacy functionalities associated with their desktop and web solutions are often translated too literally into their mobile solutions, leading to a clunky and awkward user experience.”
    An excellent point. You can’t just take an entire desktop ECM solution and move it on over to a mobile platform. An ideal solution will include only the functionality that is suitable for the mobile environment, and will have been developed to offer seamless performance of the key tasks that are most appropriate and/or necessary for users.

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