AirWatch Manages Tablet Computer Deployment

 - February 3, 2013, 4:10 AM

As the migration of iPad tablet computers into cockpits has accelerated, operators have had to grapple with the logistics of deploying these devices. Companies such as Atlanta-based AirWatch have stepped in to help manage configuration, security and tracking for operators that have anywhere from a few to thousands of these mobile devices in employees’ hands. Jeppesen, which offers the Mobile FliteDeck Pro app for the iPad, has teamed with AirWatch to resell AirWatch’s services. Mobile FlightDeck buyers with a Jeppesen service agreement can receive AirWatch mobile device management (MDM) services under the teaming arrangement.

AirWatch has been serving the aviation industry for more than a year and works with a variety of app developers, including Jeppesen, Lufthansa Systems (Lido) and ForeFlight. The first carrier to sign up for MDM services was Alaska Airlines, which has about 4,000 iPads. Other large airlines that use AirWatch are United Airlines (10,000 iPads) and Delta Air Lines (4,000). Operators of large business jet fleets, including NetJets, Flight Options and Flexjet, are also customers, as are charter operators such as FlightWorks. “We work with everybody,” said Alan Dabbiere, chairman of AirWatch, including flight departments with a handful of pilots. Aviation represents just 5 percent of the company’s business, which has already grown to more than 5,000 customers. About 500 new customers sign up with AirWatch every month, he said. “It’s not just aviation; it’s the global corporate environment. There’s a tsunami of devices in every industry that has been breathtaking.”

While it might seem relatively simple to manage a mobile device for a small flight department, Dabbiere points out that customers value having one company take care of the logistics of deploying these devices. Working with the customer, AirWatch ensures the correct apps are on each device, that data is wiped off properly if the device is lost or stolen, that any documents stored in the cloud and on the devices are encrypted and that only authorized users are able to log into the device. AirWatch’s secure content locker is a service that automatically manages customer documents, ensuring that they are current and that old documents are removed and new ones added. The locker can also monitor whether the user accessed certain apps or documents. AirWatch detects if a user tries to modify the operating system by jailbreaking (iPad) or rooting the device (Android).

AirWatch can also set up the device to prevent users from installing unauthorized apps, using a dedicated “app store” with apps that the customer selects. “If the only thing you see are five [authorized] apps, there’s no way to get a new app if it’s not approved,” he explained. Or AirWatch can set up the device to allow normal access to Apple’s App Store or Google Play (for Android devices), but monitor the apps that users are installing. In this case, if a user installs a risky app, AirWatch could both warn the user and disable the user’s access to corporate data.

If a device is lost, AirWatch can help track it down and prevent loss of the data. “The reality is, devices get lost,” Dabbiere said. “Through the convenience of size [these devices] become a little bit more loseable.” What AirWatch does, he concluded, “[is to provide] a degree of security you just can’t get with paper media.”