Samsung’s Enterprise Mobility Strategy comes into Focus

I spent the best part of Monday in New York with Samsung, learning the latest on its enterprise mobility story. It’s a story that’s come a long way over the last five years or so, but it’s also a great illustration of how Samsung has continued to set its Android smartphone strategy apart from the competing Android vendors. It’s worth looking at how this approach has evolved over time, both as an interesting facet of Samsung’s strategy in its own right and in terms of what it says about Samsung’s Android strategy overall.

Knox in 2013

Samsung began its foray into the enterprise with its Samsung Approved For Enterprise (SAFE) program in 2012, with the Samsung Galaxy S 3. But it wasn’t until its Samsung Knox capability was announced in February 2013 things really began to take shape. The impetus behind Samsung Knox was a sense at Samsung that, though it had done very well in the consumer market, if it was to continue growing its smartphone shipments, it needed to break into enterprise. At the time, iOS devices had become the de facto standard in the world of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) deployments, while Android was still viewed with suspicion by most corporate IT departments. Google itself wasn’t taking this problem very seriously at the time – in fact, in 2012, it disbanded 3LM, a Motorola subsidiary formed by former Googlers and designed to make Android more fit for enterprise deployment. This was the strongest possible signal Google could have sent it wasn’t going to solve this problem on its OEMs’ behalf.

And so, Samsung decided it needed to take matters into its own hands, leading to the creation of Knox and its first capabilities in 2012, which were focused on dual-persona containers and certain other functionality, coincident with the launch of the Galaxy S4 in early 2013. This was basic functionality and certainly didn’t overcome all the concerns IT departments had with deploying Android devices, but it was a starting point for what’s come since.

Knox in 2016

Knox has been through quite a few iterations – six subsequent releases by my count – and is now a much more fully-fledged security solution than it was. Version 2.7 launched with the Note7 in the last month or so and brought a handful of new features with it. But the more significant evolution over the last three and a half years has been the transformation of Knox from a series of point solutions into a security platform. Knox is now baked into almost all mid-to-high-end Samsung smartphones at the hardware and OS layer and the basic functions are available to all Samsung smartphone users as a result. Those basic functions include hardening intended to prevent hacking or rooting of the OS and a variety of other features.

Enterprises, however, can add additional functionality across four key domains as part of paid offerings from Samsung:

  • Knox Workspace – which is the evolution of the first Knox product, a dual-persona container, now “defense grade” and certified by a variety of government agencies in the US and around the world
  • Knox Premium – a cloud-based end-to-end solution which enhances the basic functions
  • Knox Enabled App – an app-level containerization solution, which cordons off individual enterprise apps from the rest of the data on the device, while maintaining the look, feel, and functionality of the app
  • Knox Customization – a service which allows businesses to deploy a variety of Samsung devices, often tablets, in a variety of settings in which their functions can be locked down and restricted. For example, in kiosks, as point of sale devices, or as terminals for workers in various settings.

Another key element of Knox in recent versions has been an attempt to overcome some of the security risks associated with the slow roll out of new Android versions. Samsung has worked with Google and others to roll out security-specific updates separate from the major Android releases on a regular basis in order to patch vulnerabilities. In the most recent version, Knox also allows enterprises in some markets (though not yet the US) to determine exactly which version of the software should be deployed on its device fleet.

A broader transformation

Over the past year in particular, Samsung’s enterprise strategy in the US has undergone something of a transformation under new leadership, shifting from principally selling devices based on hardware features to selling solutions which incorporate devices, software, and services from Samsung. These solutions are intended to give businesses more of an end-to-end approach than Samsung has offered in the past. Google, which as I said earlier had largely ceded this space to others in 2012, has since stepped up and provided Android for Work as a base layer of security for Android devices in the enterprise, but Samsung has continued to innovate above and beyond what Android offers out of the box. Meanwhile, Samsung’s various Android competitors have tried their own approaches to enterprise solutions but these have either faded over time or remained far less functional than Samsung’s offerings.

Samsung as the Android default

All of this has left Samsung as the default option for Android in the enterprise. It’s the only Android vendor that appears to take deep security and other enterprise needs seriously and the only vendor which has dedicated significant resources to selling and supporting solutions in the enterprise. This mirrors its successful work over recent years to become the default Android vendor among consumers in key markets like the US, especially at the high end. This is Samsung’s strength – leveraging its scale and investment to dominate within the markets it seeks to play in – and it’s arguably paid off in a big way in the enterprise. The interesting thing about all of this – at least to date – is it’s mostly about positioning against other Android vendors rather than against Apple and iOS in the enterprise, though the latter are definitely potential future targets. Samsung’s efforts have been mostly about neutralizing the concerns and disadvantages associated with Android in the enterprise rather than necessarily about besting Apple. That may begin to change going forward, should Samsung decide to broaden its offerings further. Apple is obviously not standing still either, striking partnerships with IBM, Cisco, SAP, and others around the enterprise. But it’s increasingly clear that – from a smartphone perspective at least – these two companies will carve up the lion’s share of the enterprise market in the coming years.

The next challenge

The next big step for Samsung is to begin to make one of the hardest transitions of all for a tech company – to go from selling technology solutions to selling business solutions. That’s a subtle shift but it means really understanding and then transforming internal business processes and not simply offering technology products to meet specific technology needs. I’ve seen a variety of other tech companies – notably telecom operators – attempt this leap over time and it’s a tough one to make. It always requires partners who can bring both capabilities and credibility beyond those the tech companies themselves bring to the table. It also requires a major shift in mindset for sales teams trained to sell products based on features rather than their business transformation potential. The big question is whether Samsung can build the partnerships needed to achieve this combined credibility and whether it can drive the internal cultural change necessarily to sell and deliver these solutions. One of the hardest things of all is Samsung sells entirely through indirect channels rather than directly to enterprises, which will add another layer of complexity here. The other big challenge is, to the extent Samsung wants to work with multinational companies, its highly regionalized structure may prove a handicap – serving global customers requires a global structure for sales and support and that’s not the way Samsung is currently organized.

An ongoing evolution

Samsung’s strategy and positioning is by no means set here. Knox itself has been through quite a bit of transformation over recent years and its public identity is still a little muddled. Samsung has largely marketed the point solutions until now, which means different enterprises have different perceptions of what Knox really is and what it stands for. Samsung wants to begin to communicate a clearer identity for Knox in particular and its enterprise activities overall, but business marketing is notoriously difficult. There’s only so much ads in airport terminals can achieve. But Samsung does seem to be making some progress here and, in the process, is solidifying its lead as the Android vendor for the enterprise.

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Jan Dawson

Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research, a technology research and consulting firm focused on consumer technology. During his sixteen years as a technology analyst, Jan has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the consumer technology space, pulling together insights on communications and content services, device hardware and software, and online services to provide big-picture market analysis and strategic advice to his clients. Jan has worked with many of the world’s largest operators, device and infrastructure vendors, online service providers and others to shape their strategies and help them understand the market. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Jan worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as Chief Telecoms Analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally.

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