In Depth

How to choose the right enterprise mobility management tool

four professionals looking at mobile devices
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Consider what's 'good enough' for what you need right now -- but don't neglect the future.

The rapid pace of innovation in mobile devices and software has made managing it all a moving target, but the proliferation of user-owned devices at work means businesses cannot wait to beef up their support infrastructure.

So how do you choose the right tool set, given all the activity? It's not easy: Mobile device management (MDM) software vendors are adding new features every three to six months, on average. Also, as vendors have consolidated -- most recently with this week's announcement that VMware will acquire AirWatch -- MDM tools have evolved into enterprise mobile management (EMM) suites, all-purpose Swiss Army knives that cover the gamut from device policy controls to application, content, network and service management.

"2014 will be the battle of the big vendors. It is the year they will make a run at enterprises that want stability and scale," says Maribel Lopez, principal at Lopez Research. As a result, it's the year to review your EMM strategy -- or to develop one if you haven't already.

If you have not done so yet, you're not alone. According to a May 2013 Aberdeen Group survey of 320 IT organizations, 75% had a bring your own device (BYOD) program in place, but half of those were taking an "anything goes" approach to managing the mobile ecosystem -- which is to say, little or no management at all. "That's a big concern," says Andrew Borg, who was research director at Aberdeen when the survey was completed. (Borg is now founder and principal of eC3 Consulting, his own practice.)

As mobility morphs from a peripheral concern to a core IT service, it's inevitable that more organizations will move toward the adoption of EMM software. Here are a few things to think about before making that purchase.

Put your current needs front and center

Finding the right EMM tool set depends not only on which one has the most features, but which has the feature sets that best meet your organization's requirements. (See Mobility management tools: Features and functions compared.)

"There's no single list of what's important and what's not. It's all about your use case," says Philippe Winthrop, global mobility evangelist at Computer Sciences Corp. "If you have zero interest in supporting one mobile platform then it doesn't matter if the EMM has insane capabilities on that platform," he says. So start with the business tasks you're trying to support, figure out what tools and feature sets are required and drill down from there.

For example, MDM policy controls are a baseline. But do you also need application or content management? Do you need to support BYOD as well as company-owned phones?

Are you using corporate owned, personally enabled (COPE) phones? They are owned by the company and can be configured and managed just like a BYOD device, offering containerization or other technologies to segment personal apps and data away from the corporate apps and content.

Do your employees travel to offices abroad? If so, a seemingly esoteric feature like geo-fencing -- a feature that enables device management policy changes based on a phone's GPS location -- could be all-important to stay in compliance with each country's privacy regulations. "Having an MDM that can change the policy of a device as it crosses from one country to another is one of those great features that organizations don't know they need yet," says Daniel Eckert, managing director in the advisory practice at PwC.

It's also important to understand whose devices you need to manage. Is it just employees, or do you need to include contractors, temporary workers, business partners or even customers?

Then there are the types of devices you need to manage -- either now or in the next few years. Yes, most vendors support iOS and Android, but what about Windows Phone and the new Firefox OS? If you think those aren't a factor, consider that back in 2009 no one would have anticipated the decline of BlackBerry, Symbian and WebOS -- or that Nokia would adopt Windows Phone as its core strategy because of an acquisition, says Winthrop.

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