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How does enterprise file management in iOS work?

It's important to ensure that files are secure and easy to work with on enterprise mobile devices. In iOS, the Files app is a key tool for personal and corporate file management.

File management in iOS differs from file management in macOS or Windows, so the Files app is important to understand when working with iPhones in the enterprise.

Mobile endpoints are essential tools in many workplaces, and ensuring access to files and the ability to work with files is a major aspect of end-user productivity. On iOS devices, users can look to the Files app for their file management needs, but IT administrators have to take some considerations into account to utilize this tool in an enterprise setting.

Much like the Finder utility on Mac devices, the iOS Files app has some limitations that can make it more difficult to use for corporate resources. To effectively manage data on enterprise iPhones, organizations should understand how file synchronization works in iOS and the differences between working with the Files app on personal versus managed devices.

What is the Files app in iOS?

The Files app -- which users get by installation default on iOS and iPadOS -- can be used to manage files on iPhones and iPads. Due to the direct integration with iCloud Drive, any changes a user makes to files on one device are automatically synchronized to their other devices. That's achieved by relying on the Apple ID and iCloud Drive of the user.

Additionally, the Files app can be used to access local files on the device, as well as files in other cloud services, such as OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive. All of these capabilities make the Files app the go-to application for accessing files on iOS devices.

Features of the Files app

The Files app is available for every user and provides access to all local files, files in third-party cloud services and files in the user's iCloud Drive, which are, in turn, available across all devices that use the same Apple ID. Plus, iCloud Drive is available via the web browser on every platform, and Apple provides an app for Windows devices that enables direct access to the iCloud Drive of the provided Apple ID. By utilizing that integration, the user can go to their default Windows apps to access files on their iCloud Drive. This makes iCloud Drive an important aspect of working with files on iOS devices; without that integration, it would be limited to the Apple ecosystem.

Another useful feature when using the Files app with iCloud Drive is the file-sharing capability. Users can rely on the file-sharing capabilities of iCloud Drive to share links to files with other users. That makes collaboration more efficient, as there are no longer multiple versions of the same document within the organization. When sharing a link to a document in iCloud Drive, users can define who can access the file and what permissions they have. Once files are shared, the Files app provides an overview of all the files that are shared by the user and with the user. It also shows shared files of other connected cloud services, such as OneDrive.

Best practices for enterprise file management in iOS

Apple ID is a key component of working with files on iOS devices, and in many scenarios, it's a personal Apple ID. From an enterprise perspective, that's far from ideal. Organizations want to have control over any corporate data on end-user devices, but with personal Apple IDs, the user is always in control. For more control, organizations can consider using Managed Apple IDs. In that case, the organization can always restrict account access, preventing unauthorized users from interacting with the data stored in that account. In combination with federated authentication, it's possible for users to add their Azure Active Directory username and password as their Managed Apple IDs. This makes it a strong option for working with files, even in an environment that also contains Microsoft products.

There are, however, some considerations to keep in mind with Managed Apple IDs. When working with files, integration with Windows is a major concern because the iCloud app for Windows doesn't support Managed Apple IDs. That mainly restricts the usage of Managed Apple IDs to an Apple ecosystem.

Besides that, iCloud Drive is generally focused on the personal files of the user. Organizations deal with more than just personal files, and at times they might need a location to store files for a whole team or files about a specific product. There are many situations that might require more than a personal file location, and iCloud Drive isn't ideal for that. Additionally, IT administrators must consider the security aspect of access to iCloud Drive and the level of control over corporate data. By relying on federated authentication, the organization automatically has the option to maintain more control during the authentication of the user, but it might not be the level of control that admins are looking for.

Handling the limitations of the Files app

In an enterprise environment, it's vital for organizations to have control over corporate data. Managing iOS devices and data access, however, often requires more than just the user's iCloud Drive. Microsoft software, for example, provides organizations with more controls for containing corporate data, enabling admins to determine which devices and apps users can access company resources with.

In combination with Microsoft services for device and data management, employees can use managed iOS devices while still relying on the Files app as their go-to app for working with files. The only difference is that their main storage location will be something different than their iCloud Drive. With Microsoft, that would be OneDrive for personal files and Teams or SharePoint for all other files. Utilizing the support of the different available platforms, users can be productive on the device of their choosing and the organization can stay in control of corporate data.

Every time users try to access their company data, the program will check the device and only allow access if it complies with company policies. For personal devices, that might require users to fall back on specific Microsoft apps to containerize the data. In that case, however, users won't be able to rely on the Files app to access corporate data, as it doesn't provide enough controls to contain the data for an organization. So, the Files app is still a valid option, just not on personal devices. For users to rely on the Files app while ensuring proper data control, managed iOS devices are the best option.

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