Mobile device management: Getting started

Expect a moving target, practitioners say, and focus on a few key areas.

The rapid-fire spread of mobile devices being used by enterprise employees can be a huge boon for businesses in productivity and customer service gains, but those advantages don't come without a price.

The inherent flexibility and freedom to get business done anywhere, anytime, also makes it much harder to maintain the security and control of corporate data when employees are accessing and storing business information on their smartphones, tablet computers and other mobile devices. And the rush of new devices never seems to end, making it hard to stay out in front of innovations.

"Enterprises must plan now for the mobile devices of the future that they don't even know of yet," says Kevin Benedict, principal analyst at Netcentric Strategies LLC in Boise, Idaho. "So you build an infrastructure that says it doesn't care what devices are on the end of it and you have a framework that you just plug into."

Getting there isn't easy, however. One approach that can make implementing a mobile workforce easier -- or at least consistent -- is through mobile device management (MDM) strategies that can help enterprises address all related mobile issues in a top-to-bottom approach.

Among the challenges that an MDM strategy can help with: Which mobile devices to support, whether to allow employees to choose and bring their own devices into work, and how to handle security for mobile devices, including whether to have remote data wiping capabilities for lost or stolen devices.

Policies about devices

One of the first decisions to make with an MDM strategy is to figure out which devices your employees will use and whether the individual or the company will pay for them.

At New York-based Edelman, the global PR firm, most of the 3,800 employees use RIM BlackBerries, unless they have a compelling work-related reason to use something else, says John Iatonna, the vice president of information security. Those cases are decided individually by business managers -- workers can be allowed to use iPhones or iPads if needed for the work they do, but RIM devices are Edelman's enterprise standard mobile devices.

John Iatonna
There are two reasons Edelman prefers using corporate-owned BlackBerry devices, says John Iatonna, the PR firm's vice president of information security. First, the firm can negotiate more competitive pricing through its relationship with its enterprise phone carrier and second, it can maintain tighter management and security compared to other devices.

Two reasons Edelman prefers using corporate-owned BlackBerry devices: The firm can negotiate more competitive pricing through its relationship with its enterprise phone carrier and it can maintain tighter management and security compared to other devices. "It's much easier to get hold of and track your BlackBerries than it is [other types of] smartphones," Iatonna says. "We do have an Apple and Android population, but those devices weren't designed with an enterprise environment in mind."

"BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) is a much more developed and mature enterprise MDM system than the other smartphone MDM vendors," Iatonna said. And even though RIM has been losing market share to other vendors, its products and enterprise-level security capabilities still offer the best answers for Edelman's needs, he said.

For its part, SAP AG, the Germany-based software vendor, began its mobile workforce project in 2010, says global CIO Oliver Bussmann. At the time it included some 14,000 SAP-purchased Apple iPhones and iPads, and personal iPhones or iPads for another 500 users, who had to sign consent forms agreeing to SAP's terms of use, which vary from country to country depending on business requirements. The first employees to be brought into the mobile strategy were workers in the development organization, followed by executives and the entire global sales force, he said.

The reason for that specific order of rollout, Bussman explains: "We made the development teams that were building the apps test them as part of the process." Then, "executives demanded solutions quickly after that and then drove direction to focus on sales and other field resources."

Starting this past January, SAP expanded the program to also include more than 500 SAP-purchased Samsung Android Galaxy SII smartphones and Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablets, with more to be deployed by employees who request them based on a compelling business reason.

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