Mobile management morphs

The software now goes way beyond controlling physical devices.

Ask any three IT professionals what they're looking for in mobile-device management (MDM) software and you're likely to get five different answers. Customers are pushing the limits of the software -- asking it to do many more things than it was originally created to do -- and vendors are happy to oblige.

(See MDM tools: Features and functions compared.)

For instance, when senior enterprise engineer Jeff Roman went looking for software to manage a mix of 3,000 smartphones at construction management firm Skanska, his top three priorities were ease of use, hardware security and cost -- in that order. On the other hand, for Arun Abraham, director of network service at publisher Scholastic, the issue was asset management. "I need to know all devices that are active and polling our servers at any time," he says.

Julian Bond, head of information, communication and technology at U.K.-based window blinds maker Hillarys Blinds, needed to control and manage the user experience for 1,000 external sales representatives equipped with Samsung Galaxy S IIIs. This included the ability to put a "walled garden" around critical applications on each sales adviser's device and to troubleshoot issues with Bluetooth-connected receipt printers on the fly.

Deployment plans

Have you implemented software or services for managing mobile devices, apps or data?

Yes, have deployed - 45%
In the process of deploying - 8%
Plan to deploy in next 12 months - 15%
Currently evaluating - 15%
Have not implemented/no plans - 11%
Don't know - 4%

Source: Computerworld survey of IT managers, April 2013, base 97

When Computerworld surveyed IT managers for this story, 78% said they are using or plan to use mobile management software for basic hardware device management, while 68% mentioned security and 59% checked mobile application management.

But many are looking for additional features in areas such as network management (33%) and content management (27%), too.

So how do IT organizations choose? By finding tools that offer the right mix of features and then carefully testing to make sure those features work as advertised, IT managers say.

These days, mobile device management tool vendors need to be all things to all people for all mobile platforms, and they're responding. [See the chart.] Eventually, analysts say, MDM software will converge with more traditional software for managing PCs and laptops, providing a single control point for managing and implementing policies across all endpoint devices.

As enterprise apps continue to expand onto mobile, users will expect a consistent experience -- and a single help desk resource that can remedy application issues, whether the app is running in the cloud, on a desktop PC or on an iPhone.

Sorting through the options

All MDM software supports the basic hardware management functions available through Android and iOS APIs, but many vendors now support extended management API sets. One example is Samsung for Enterprise (Safe), which adds features such as the ability to disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and to manage Bluetooth-connected devices such as printers.

Many tools also now enable automated provisioning and provide a protected space within which enterprise apps and data can reside. Many have also added network management features such as usage monitoring and reporting, and the ability to restrict downloads to Wi-Fi connections in a bid to control cellular data and roaming costs.

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