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The challenges of mobile device management

Simon Kemp gets the lowdown on mobile device management in this Q&A session with Calvin Anderson.


With the uptake in use of mobile devices (smart phones and tablet devices) there is an increasing demand by employees to use their personal devices for work.

Managing the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend is a reality that many companies are starting to get to grips with, but even where employees are provided a mobile device to use, there are many challenges to take into consideration.

Security of information, of course, is one of these concerns and rightly so, but privacy is also a concern for users. Companies are now facing how to achieve a balance between supporting employee demands for access and the need by companies for appropriate control.

Given the fast rate of adoption of smart phones, tablets and the various models involved, all of a sudden complexity in this issue has become a burden for IT departments and a challenge for company executives.

In this blog, I wanted to start with the basics and ask some of the questions I have about mobile device management (MDM), and I thought who better to ask than Calvin Anderson. Cal has worked in this market for 30 years – 13 at NCR with the introduction of point of sale systems, 10 years at Symbol with mobile and five years running his own mobile software company. Cal’s focus is on helping companies harness and embrace the potential of mobile use.

I hope this Q&A format will answer some of the questions you have too.

Q. Hi Cal, can you give a brief description of what MDM is?

A. Mobile device management (MDM) has the objective to treat mobile computers as company assets and to facilitate innovation. Devices are registered, authenticated and intelligently managed through the use of policy settings and administration controls via MDM but the real goal is to inspire and motivate appropriate use by mobile users.

Q. So why is it important for companies to understand and embrace MDM?

A. Mobile devices, by the very nature, are used outside of the visibility and control of a company leading to potential for user support issues or potential corruption of corporate systems. With MDM, there is the potential to balance control and employee flexibility.

Q. So how do I differentiate between offerings and what are some of the important features to look for in MDM?

A. Given the growth and diversity of mobile devices, there have been many products released to help companies gain a level of control. Some products emphasis security, others offer control over software provisioning and updates. Indeed there are more than 35 important factors in understanding the value of MDM.

Q. How do MDM products work, does there have to be some sort of application downloaded to the device?

A. In short, yes – in most cases a client piece is installed via email, sms or directly onto the device.

Q. What are the most useful statistics provided by a MDM solution?

A. I like the expression, “ You don’t know what you don’t know, until you know it” – our experience indicates customers observe, learn and can quickly optimise their decision making around mobile use. Information is available on dashboards, reports, by search, exceptions and a whole range of tools.   Best of all – it is your data.

Q. What are the main (core) features that every MDM product should have?


A. As mentioned, there are many detailed options to help you create useable, useful information. Professional MDM suppliers have detailed websites, webinars, education tools, forums and blogs to help companies get on top of this challenge and opportunity. Most important, in my view, is that you can get started quickly with minimal impact to existing systems and resources. It is also important that the system can scale to incorporate thousands of users.

Q. In your experience how do people generally feel about the company they work for monitoring their mobile device usage, especially when the employee is using a personal device?


A. Generally, it is the user that prefers his or her device and wants access to corporate information. So this creates the opportunity for a simple agreement that access comes with responsibilities. Again it is important that this understanding is consistent for use of in office computers.

Q. Can the device be monitored only for certain applications, in certain locations or can it be turned off when I'm not working on it? I mean I don't think companies would want to know my top score on Angry Birds right?

A. Most systems cater for a way to make it work for the user and for the company needs. This is the real point. Mobility is going to be around forever and creating the right balance critical to supporting the motivation and desire of employees to use mobility to be more effective.

Q. If, for example, I change jobs or move to a new position where I no longer have access to certain data or company applications, can data be removed for individual applications and email accounts but leave personal information like music or photos intact?

A. There are various levels of detail that can be accommodated. Frankly, companies need to get started and learn to apply the various settings and rules to work for their culture, the roles of various employees and evolve their optimal approach.

Q. So here's a bit of a sensitive question... what liability is there if inappropriate content is found on the device?

A. One of the major benefits is to be able to register and monitor appropriate software licence rights for example. In terms of content, it is unlikely that companies want to upload picture files or such.

Q. Why are mobile devices so different from laptops? Are laptops managed as closely as mobile devices?

A. Today, IT support can capture and trace a problem in the office by freezing the computer and analysing what is going on. In fact, computers on an intranet are far more visible. With mobile computers, including laptops, it is much more difficult to monitor user activity. Therefore MDM aims to provide education, training, guidelines and a practical working relationship to improve productivity and avoid mistakes.

Q. The concept of an app store is fairly well understood in the consumer market today with Apples iTunes store and the Android marketplace... can you explain the advantage for companies to have their own app store? Is it not overkill to have a whole app store for only a few apps?

A. Quite the opposite. If you stop and consider how much change has occurred in a very short period of time with mobile – you can start to anticipate how companies will innovate their way to compete, service customers and empower ‘knowledge workers’. We are finally at the point where innovation is not dependent on new technology but on the disciplines and capabilities of organisations to harness the power.

Q. What are the main business drivers that companies are looking at when putting together a business case for MDM?

A. The business case is quite straight forward given the increasing threat of regulations and compliance demands. Mobile is shifting from being driven by personal use to becoming a vital and trusted tool for doing business.

This shift is happening very quickly, and in the research we see, separating the leaders from the followers in many industries.

Q. Are MDM solutions typically internally managed or outsourced to service providers?


A. The best approach is to do both. Companies must take responsibility for quality, policy and user behaviour.   Companies can also rely on specialists to provide the necessary expertise in developing and maintaining this type of solution. One thing for sure- there will be a greater number of devices and device types in the future, so it is imperative to start now.

Q. Any final comments to help companies appreciate MDM?


A. Yes – don’t be scared off. MDM is not just another IT tool. The benefits of a successful MDM program should involve all departments – Executive, finance, HR, operations and IT. Remember that the user is the key and motivation to embrace the potential a critical success factor.

Thanks Cal. Clearly we have only scratched the surface with this handful of questions so I'd like to ask readers to please to post their own questions and we will try to address them too!

 Simon Kemp is national service line lead for user empowerment at PLAUT Australia.

 




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