How to choose the right enterprise mobility management (EMM) tool

As mobile device management continues to morph, consider what EMM features you need right now as well as what you might need in the future -- and don't neglect the user experience.

four professionals looking at mobile devices

It’s almost redundant to refer to a “mobile workforce,” because so much of the workforce today is using mobile devices in some fashion. Managing this large and expanding environment continues to be a huge challenge for IT, and for a growing number of organizations, enterprise mobility management (EMM) is the solution of choice.

Recent industry research shows the expected growth in demand for EMM products, which typically incorporate mobile device management (MDM), mobile application management (MAM), mobile security and mobile content management. An April 2017 report from The Radicati Group forecasts that worldwide revenues for the EMM market will total $1.8 billion by year-end 2017. This will increase to more than $3.3 billion by year-end 2021, for an average annual growth rate of 18% over the next four years.

Among the driving factors for the rising demand are the ongoing growth of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs, the growing mobile workforce, mobile app proliferation, cybersecurity threats, and regulatory and compliance requirements, according to the report. EMM tools can be cloud-based, on-premises or a combination of both.

“At the most basic level, EMM technology allows organizations to support employee autonomy and choice while simultaneously protecting the enterprise from the threats that come from enabling employees with mobile,” says Andrew Hewitt, a researcher at Forrester Research. “Our research shows that if organizations mobile-enable their employees, those employees are happier, more productive, serve happier customers, and ultimately increase revenue for the organization.”

Device management capabilities are still a key driving need behind most organizations’ enterprise mobility initiatives, says Adam Holtby, a research analyst at Ovum. “EMM solutions that help organizations manage and secure a broad variety of connected endpoints will be very important going forward,” he says. “But enterprise mobility is moving beyond its device management roots.”

What’s new in mobile management

Today’s EMM products include MDM, MAM, security and content management features, but also offer advanced capabilities such as next-generation policy management and the ability to derive meaningful context about devices and their users. At the same time, there’s rising demand among organizations for capabilities that can help them manage the growing number of mobile threats. That’s creating a greater focus on the need for mobile identity. EMM vendors have begun providing more contextually relevant identity tools in their products, to permit or restrict access to corporate resources based on the network an employee is using.

Another key trend is more sophisticated use of analytics with EMM systems, spurred by advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Data gathered by EMM systems can allow enterprises to gain new efficiencies in workflows and make better business decisions. “Organizations are increasingly recognizing that mobility is a key digital transformation pillar,” says Holtby.

Along with these new capabilities come increasing costs, and prices are indeed rising for EMM products, according to experts. They say costs will continue to go up as the variety of devices increases and the mobile environment becomes even more complex.

And some companies have found that one EMM product isn’t enough to meet their needs. EMM is a sticky technology, Hewitt says, meaning it’s hard to completely remove one vendor and move to another. The majority of companies Forrester speaks with deploy multiple EMMs to serve a diverse device portfolio that typically includes multiple mobile and PC operating systems and form factors.

“We do expect organizations to consolidate their EMM portfolios as EMMs mature,” Hewitt says. “Organizations will standardize on EMM vendors that can serve the biggest variety of use cases.”

All this means that choosing the right EMM vendor and platform might be one of the more important technology decisions IT and business leaders have to make, given how many employees are using devices and the importance of mobility to the business. Here are some factors to consider before making that selection.

Put your current needs front and center

A key to choosing the best EMM solution is aligning the features and capabilities of the platform to your organization’s requirements. This includes such factors as what types of business apps users typically work with, what security and regulatory compliance requirements the company has, what sort of network and service management features it needs, which mobile operating systems are in use, what level of reporting capabilities is needed, and so on.

Selecting the right platform isn’t just a matter of getting the most features, but acquiring the features that best meet the organization's requirements. (See our updated .)

“Organizational needs relating to mobility differ considerably, as do the infrastructure environments into which mobility solutions will be implemented,” Holtby says. “Organizations should not overlook the importance of developing a partnership with a vendor or service provider who can work closely with them in aligning the technology to the unique needs and demands of that business,” Holtby says.

Once you’ve figured out which business tasks you're looking to support via mobile devices and apps, determine which feature sets are needed based on that. Other things to consider are whether the company needs application or content management as well as basic device management, and whether it needs to support BYOD as well as company-owned devices. If employees are on the road a lot, and particularly if they travel overseas, a feature such as geo-fencing might be important so that users can be compliant with certain countries’ data privacy regulations.

When evaluating EMM products, try to take into account all the potential mobile users in the organization. Up until only a few years ago, enterprise mobility was centered around how to enable people to work untethered from traditional devices, such as desktop PCs and laptops, and mobile devices were often used in the workplace only by senior executives. Now, “mobile technologies are more democratized within organizations, and a broader set of employees are being empowered through the utilization of these technologies,” Holtby says.

Pay attention to the user experience

It's important to check out how an EMM platform actually works with a variety of mobile devices before broadly rolling out a system within the enterprise. If the EMM platform makes it more difficult for employees to use their mobile devices or in some way interferes with their accustomed ways of doing things on mobile, they are not going to be happy with the change.

“Focus on the employee experience. If the employee experience with the EMM is bad, they will circumvent it and not use it,” Hewitt says. “This is one of the major failure points for EMM. We recommend that organizations segment their workforces and match EMM [policies] to the appropriate use case. Some employees won't require EMM [control] if they're only using one application or are only working for a short time for the organization.”

Do a test run with an EMM platform, and be sure to query employees about their experiences with it and whether it’s making the use of mobile apps and devices easier or more difficult.

Any pilot should be of sufficient length “to thoroughly test all the major use cases — on all supported platforms — that you’ll have to support with a new product,” says Bryan Taylor, research director at Gartner. “It’s not enough just to look at a list of supported features. In most cases, the devil is in the details, and these can only be reliably exposed through use.”

Mobility is supposed to empower workers and help them to be more productive. If EMM ends up hindering those benefits, then its value to the organization becomes much more limited.

Consider converging endpoint management

Experts say EMM vendors are investing in ways to advance their products into platforms that support enterprises as they look to manage a more diverse endpoint environment. This unified endpoint management (UEM) capability will enable organizations to manage mobile devices, PCs and internet of things (IoT) devices.

EMM tools are already capable of supporting organizations in managing a broad variety of devices and operating systems, Holtby says. “Developing capabilities that help organizations [in] unifying the management of a more broadly connected device estate has been an area of key focus for EMM over the past twelve months or so,” he says.

Ovum anticipates that the UEM approach will gather further momentum as enterprises better understand the value proposition of a managing all devices with one tool. Also adding to the growth of converged endpoint management is the ongoing convergence of the desktop, laptop and mobile environments.

Don’t forget about mobile apps

The mobile ecosystem is not just about devices. Business apps are what deliver the real value to mobile users and the organization as a whole. As such, the mobile application management features and capabilities of the EMM platform are extremely important.

“Mobile apps are driving the EMM market to new heights and into a more compelling IT investment proposition,” Holtby says. “Undoubtedly, mobile apps have a huge role to play in helping employees realize new productivity efficiencies, but consideration must be made as to how these apps can be selected, developed, managed and secured, and it is here that EMM solutions have real value.”

In addition, how mobile apps are configured and integrated with other business services and IT infrastructure represents a key area of focus for enterprises going forward, as does the management of identities across devices and apps, Holtby says.

Suites vs. individual products

Whether to purchase a full EMM suite or individual “best-of-breed” components depends on the company’s mobility needs, size, existing mobile management infrastructure, and other factors.

EMM suites that pack in MDM, MAM and more can be ideal for a large, global enterprise that needs a variety of capabilities and features and is looking to avoid having multiple tools to manage.

For smaller or more localized organizations or those with simpler needs, an entire EMM suite may simply not be necessary, says Forrester’s Hewitt. “We see organizations moving towards more comprehensive suites, but sometimes this is overkill,” he says. “If all your employees need to do is approve an expense report using a mobile device on the fly, they probably don't need EMM.” Simpler products that provide mobile versions of applications are preferable in that case, he says.

Gartner analyst Taylor notes that the suites vs. individual tools question “has become less of an issue over the years, as many of the products in this space have evolved to cover device, app and often mobile content at minimum. That’s the reason we started using the term EMM in place of MDM, which had a device-centric connotation.”

And even a suite might not provide all the mobile management capabilities an organization needs, Taylor adds. “There may be tools you need to be successful with mobile in your particular scenario that may not be a natural fit for most EMM vendors, such as in the security area,” he says. In a case like that, a company might prefer to buy the best possible security tool from one vendor separately from other mobile management offerings.

“So it may not be realistic to find a ‘one-stop’ suite for everything in your particular case,” Taylor concludes. “Understand, however, that EMM is the foundation around which you’ll build a complete mobile capability.”

Future proofing

Technology is ever changing, as are the needs of end users and customers, regulatory considerations, market trends and so on. An EMM platform should be designed to meet the current needs of the organization, but should also have the ability to support possible future developments.

“The device, as recent history has shown, will continue to change, so organizations must be constantly attentive and adaptive to new employee behaviors and needs relating to mobility and connectivity,” says Holtby. And the emergence of the internet of things will bring a new wave of connected devices that need to be managed.

So while your organization’s current needs are paramount, take time to consider your future needs as well, and investigate vendors’ offerings in those areas. Some of the newer features of these products, such as mobile identity management and data analytics, might be important to your company a short way down the road.

“Beyond device and app management, EMM solutions are increasingly empowering organizations with next-generation policy management capabilities, data protection, security on many levels, audit functionality, and mobile analytics that enable businesses to derive meaningful insights from a wealth of data collected across a mobile app and device estate,” Holtby says.

It is functionality such as this “that is evolving the enterprise mobility value proposition into one that can be truly transformative for organizations, helping them digitize and optimize important business services and processes,” Holtby says.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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