The Growth of Mobile Devices in the MFT Workspace
In the last ten years, there has of course been a massive growth in the realm of mobile devices, specifically with regards to smart phones and tablets. It now seems strange to think of life without them, but iPhones only appeared in 2007, and Android in 2009.
Of course, before then we had PDA devices that allowed us to sync with our desktop computers and tap away at a tiny Word document while sitting on a train, but the whole idea of transferring data while on the move was very much in its infancy still.
We all know, as the market grew for mobile devices, so did the range of applications available for them. One common factor for all mobile devices is the ability to browse the internet; it is this perhaps that first made people stop and think about how they could use a mobile device to access their company Managed File Transfer (MFT) site. In my case, I would download a list of support phone numbers from our MFT system whenever I needed to contact a technician from another team.
MFT specific clients
Before long however, specific mobile device client software from the MFT vendors began to appear, simplifying the process of downloading files. As is often the case, where one vendor releases a new product, it is soon available from all of the vendors; now it seems that every product has a mobile device client available.
Much like the MFT systems that they support, not all clients are equal. If you are planning on selecting an MFT product on the basis of the strength of the mobile client, here are some thoughts for you to consider:
- Does the client open files in the right application automatically? Or do you need to save them first?
- Can the MFT system enforce a PIN on the device? Remember that confidential files could be in the wrong hands if the device is stolen.
- Can you remotely wipe files on the device if required?
Being able to remotely download a file and work on it is certainly very useful, however equally important is the ability to upload files; this is easiest to see when considering taking photos. All smartphones come with pretty good cameras; some MFT clients allow you to navigate to a folder, then activate the camera and store all photos into the folder automatically. Imagine a roving insurance agent or removals planner being able to have the images available in his/her office before they return; the possibilities for workflow management are endless.
However, we do need to remember the limitation that some networks bring; A report by Ofcom in late 2014 found that the average UK download speed for 4G was 15.1 Mbit/s (6.1 Mbit/s for 3G) and the average upload speed for 4G was 12.4 Mbit/s (1.6 Mbit/s for 3G). At that time, 98% of the UK was covered by 3G, but only 70% was covered by 4G.
To put that into context, that’s nearly a minute to download a 100MB file on 4G and just over a minute to upload it again; if you drop to 3G coverage you would need around nine uninterrupted minutes to upload the file…
It happened to me…
I remember a project I worked on where the salesforce would upload orders into MFT while visiting customers; inside the cities it worked fine, but once out into the countryside there simply wasn’t sufficient coverage. No one had considered the coverage during the planning phase.
Of course there’s always the wifi alternative; but somehow I would feel uncomfortable if I knew end-users were rushing to their local fast food cafes or shopping malls and using unsecured wifi networks.
So in summary, if you intend to use Managed File Transfer primarily for mobile devices, pay special attention to exactly what the client application provides you. However; pay even more attention to whether the mobile networks in the area you will use the devices can deliver the speeds you need to succeed.