As India undergoes a massive digital transformation, businesses across industries are using mobile apps and devices for work. Both skilled and unskilled workers in India have a mobile-first mindset and require very little training to learn Android tablets or apps, which has led to an influx of touchscreen mobile devices for work nationwide.
Android is cost-effective, flexible, and user friendly, so there’s little question why it’s the platform-of-choice for India’s mobile revolution. But, organisations have discovered that Android management and deployment has challenges. What we need is Android DevOps.
Esper is the first full-stack solution for the enterprise Android lifecycle, including deploying devices, remotely monitoring and fixing devices, and managing apps, operating systems, and device settings. This includes its custom operating system (OS) Esper Enhanced Android and a complete set of tools for developers and leverages a toolchain for collaboration, visibility, and control throughout the device lifecycle. Its approach to application deployment and device management is purpose-built for Android dedicated devices,
We connected with Shiv Sundar, Co-Founder and COO of Esper, a company which is progressing leaps and bounds in the Android DevOps space. Co-founded by Mr Shiv Sundar (COO) and Yadhu Gopalan (CEO), Esper is a cloud platform which automates application deployment and management for the complete Android device and application lifecycle. Esper’s platform supports its users to react in real-time to device state changes like the health and performance of applications, configurations, OS, firmware, and more. The startup is active in the sectors of education, healthcare, retail, logistics, and temperature control etc.
According to the co-founder, the company has witnessed a lot of rapid growth in self-serve kiosks, payment kiosks, and contactless payments. Many organisations in retail, hospitality and the restaurant vertical are quickly upgrading their mobile technologies for customer self-service food ordering or self-check payments. Esper can help companies deploy kiosks quickly or upgrade their existing kiosk technologies to accommodate new capabilities like payments. The demand has helped Esper almost doubled its operations base in India in the last six months.
What was the premise behind starting Esper?
Android is currently widely adopted in India in the consumer sector, with 97% of Indian consumers use Android devices. The Android operating system has broad global adoption in the smart, connected device space, too – an increasing number of medical devices and smart fitness bikes run on Android, and this number is set to explode with global 5G network rollouts worldwide.
The founders of Esper saw a huge global need for tools that could manage Android dedicated devices, like mobile point-of-sale (mPoS), kiosks, digital signage, and employee tablets. Esper is also the first solution to consider the entire single-purpose device ecosystem – including Android and cloud developers, firmware, and hardware. Our unique, full-lifecycle approach includes many options for customers, including our custom operating system (OS) Esper Enhanced Android and a complete set of tools for developers. Our approach to application deployment and device management is purpose-built for Android dedicated devices. And, our product is made possible by the unique experiences of our co-founders and senior leadership team, who have decades of experience building secure OS and devices at Windows, Amazon, Samsung, Huawei, and Cyanogen.
What do you think is the future opportunity in Android DevOps?
Organisations have cultural and technological barriers between development and operations. This creates a lot of silos and tensions, with developers having little-to-no visibility into customer experience or app performance. Device operations can’t easily relay bugs to developers. This approach is the standard, but it’s not ideal because it prevents data-driven decision making. DevOps is a time-tested methodology that creates a culture of customer-obsessed behaviour among technology teams working together on software, apps, or in Esper’s case, Android. DevOps creates shared metrics and technologies among the development, cloud, QA, device management, and customer experience teams so everyone can make real-time decisions based on data to improve the customer experience. Android DevOps involves culture, people, and technology. Esper’s cloud DevOps tools can lead to customer obsession and operational excellence by supporting collaboration, transparency, and automation. We’re the first-ever solution to offer cloud test devices and labs, automated DevOps pipelines, and telemetry data. Esper is built to help organisations adopt automated rollouts and rollbacks, so they can confidently scale their fleets to 100,000 or 200,000 devices without sacrificing performance or stability.
How has the MDM landscape changed in the last five years, and what is Esper doing in this regard?
MDM was designed for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) smartphone scenarios, where it can protect enterprise data on a knowledge worker’s smartphone. It’s simply not built to lock an Android tablet to kiosk mode or any other scenario that requires strict control over user behaviour, apps, security, and settings.
MDM has evolved and expanded to include related technologies in the past five years — in addition to traditional MDM, vendors have started to offer kiosk software, unified endpoint management solutions (UEM), and mobile application management (MAM). But, none of these solutions are designed to remotely deploy and control fleets of 10,000 or 100,000 devices that are being used by customers, employees, students, or healthcare patients. Esper was built for the complexities and size of today’s massive, global Android fleets.
What is the issue with current MDM when it comes to managing devices in an organisation?
One key issue with MDM is that it hasn’t evolved to keep up with the age of cloud and everything-as-a-service. MDM uses the flawed assumption that devices will remain secure under real-world conditions. Instead, devices can quickly become vulnerable or unproductive when employees or customers download unauthorised apps, or someone needs to update the operating system. Esper creates real-time information exchange between the device and the cloud so organisations can respond to real-world risks with real-time, remote updates.
Typical MDM solutions are missing critical capabilities like Pipelines (to control the intake of a change into the device fleet), Telemetry Data (to monitor each aspect of an application), system & hardware, Diagnostics, Debugging, Automation to script and integrate into your DevOps workflow), Developer Tools (to rapidly translate user, app, and device insights into experience and features), etc.
Can you elucidate on some of the products for your clients?
Esper has a growing number of exciting customer use cases in healthcare and telemedicine space. We have several remote patient monitoring clients who use Esper’s APIs in really interesting ways, like predicting the risk of a patient experiencing an accident or providing personalised physical therapy after major surgeries. We’re also deploying an increasing number of kiosks for self-serve patient screening in hospital and clinic scenarios, including thermal temperature scanners that can identify and triage patients with COVID-19 symptoms.
We also have a rapidly-growing number of customers and partners in the education industry, which is something I’m very passionate about. Esper has helped our non-profit partners at iTeach schools and other school districts worldwide deploy thousands of remotely-managed student tablets for distance learning under pandemic conditions. We’re able to create custom settings for devices and apps to make sure students are productive and safe. Limiting student access to social media apps or browsers can protect learners from adult content without inhibiting education.
How are companies finding value in partnering with Esper? Can you give a few examples?
From many clients’ perspective, Esper is the most technologically-flexible option for Android. We support non-traditional and custom-built Android hardware like smart fitness equipment. Esper offers industry-leading support for non-GMS certified devices, older versions of the Android operating system, and migrating Windows devices to Android. Also, the size of Esper’s ecosystem helps our clients take kiosk deployments to live in a few weeks, not months or years like they would likely experience working with our competitor. Our partnerships with leading device manufacturers like Lenovo, Honeywell, Zebra, and Posbank can really streamline the process of selecting validated devices or adding Esper’s custom Android OS. Our cloud tools help customers ship devices straight to the point of deployment, where they download secure settings the moment an employee turns the hardware on.
What is the value proposition of Esper compared to competitors?
Esper is the only Android DevOps cloud solution that’s built to secure, scale, and improve single-purpose device fleets. A growing number of customers worldwide choose Esper to accommodate complex dedicated device use cases, which can range from remotely deploying 40,000 mobile point-of-sale (mPoS) to securely monitoring 10,000 student tablets. Customers also choose Esper when they need to rapidly scale their deployments without losing visibility since our automated cloud tools can detect risks in real-time and immediately trigger device lockdown or remote repair.
MDM solutions were built to protect enterprise data from user behaviour on traditional smartphones – such as putting sensitive business apps into a secure, protected folder to limit the risks of accidental exposure. But, employee smartphones are no longer the only thing organisations need to worry about. Today and tomorrow’s enterprise Android fleets involve kiosks, mobile point-of-sale, and other smart, connected devices at the edge. Esper’s value proposition is that we’re a cloud infrastructure that can scale to virtually any use case involving single-purpose Android, even non-traditional hardware and very tightly-defined user requirements.
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Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine and writes about AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, cloud computing, and blockchain. Vishal also hosts AIM's video podcast called Simulated Reality- featuring tech leaders, AI experts, and innovative startups of India.