Enterprise mobility 2021: UEM becomes key to the hybrid workplace

As companies embrace flexible work models, unified endpoint management can help IT departments manage all kinds of devices used in the office, at home, and out in the world.

mobile phone management /endpoint protection / wireless connections
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The push toward unified endpoint management (UEM), a technology strategy that emerged a few years ago and became especially vital during the COVID-19 pandemic and shift to remote work, will likely play a major role in the coming months. Many workers have begun returning to their employers’ offices at least part of the time, and a new, hybrid work model is emerging post-pandemic.

UEM, an approach that unifies and centralizes how enterprises manage devices such as smartphones, tablets, PCs, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, is an extension of mobile management technology that has evolved from enterprise mobility management (EMM) platforms, which in turn grew out of mobile device management (MDM) products. UEM delivers a comprehensive approach to managing all kinds of devices in the enterprise, so is a natural fit for the hybrid workplace.

“Across the world, the way people work has changed significantly,” says Adam Holtby, principal analyst at consulting firm Omdia. “Mobility has been the central theme of this change, with businesses across the globe embracing remote and flexible work styles at an unprecedented speed and scale.”

For many, the shift to remote and fluid work styles will be a permanent one, Holtby says, and businesses must act now to ensure that the right technologies, services, and processes are in place to support the new ways of working.

“Workplace mobility is nothing new, but in 2021 it will rise in priority as enterprises look to invest in capabilities that help secure and enable a more flexible workforce,” Holtby says.

Redefining mobility

The remote work model redefined “mobility management” in the enterprise, expanding its meaning from management of mobile devices to management of all devices used by mobile employees, including those who work from home, says Dan Wilson, senior director and analyst at research firm Gartner.

“This has elevated the importance of UEM and devalued disparate [MDM] tools and use cases,” Wilson says. Critical capabilities to support the “anywhere workforce” include location-agnostic automated device enrollment; software deployment; operating system and app patching; policy management; and integration with identity, remote access, and endpoint security tools for zero trust, he says.

This can only come from UEM, which “has served as a foundational technology to enable an any device, any app, any location experience for the workforce,” says Andrew Hewitt, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. The pandemic proved the importance of UEM, he says, as it allowed organizations to enable people to work from home effectively and easily, all while helping IT organizations ensure they could manage and secure enterprise data as it left the traditional perimeter.

“As we move into a hybrid working world, features such as single sign-on, certificate management, and multi-factor authentication, which all come standard in most UEM solutions today, will ensure employees can easily switch context between the home and the office,” Hewitt says.

Forrester also expects that UEM will play a vital role in distributing applications for the return to work, such as health and safety applications and desk booking tools, Hewitt says. “Increasingly, we're seeing UEM solutions embed experience analytics to better understand the [technology] experience employees are having,” he says. “This becomes increasingly important in a hybrid scenario, as the surrounding environment is constantly changing, creating issues for the end user.”

An eye on the market

Staying ahead of the curve, EMM vendors have been adding UEM features to their platforms for years. Prices have remained stable over the past year, Hewitt says, ranging from as little as $1 to $2 per user per month to as high as $15 per user per month.

The leading vendors in the mobility mangement market (see chart) are unchanged from a year ago, and there has been no consolidation, with the exception of MobileIron being acquired by Ivanti. “Mostly what we see is UEM vendors acquiring endpoint security functionality,” Hewitt says — for example, the pairing of VMware and Carbon Black, BlackBerry and Cylance, and Ivanti and Pulse Secure.

One noteworthy development in the market is a greater focus on small and midsized businesses (SMBs). “There are definitely more SMB-focused options in the marketplace today, served primarily through the introduction of new vendors such as 42 Gears and Hexnode but also in freemium packages from the larger vendors,” Hewitt says.

Hewitt notes that smaller companies often don’t use the full scope of features offered in EMM/UEM products: “I've heard of some customers using as little as 10% of the full capabilities of some products. That leaves a nice opening for SMB-focused players with [a] simpler offering.”

Key trends for 2021

Experts note several key trends in enterprise mobility this year. One is a reemphasis on bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies and procedures. BYOD “is back with a bang, and businesses must revisit their strategy,” Holtby says.

The speed and scale of the transition to remote working in 2020 presented businesses with a challenge in getting devices to the employees who needed them, Holtby says. “As a result, many people had to undertake work on personally owned devices and across different apps, some of which were not sanctioned by IT,” he says.

Moving forward, organizations need to ensure they have the right technologies and processes to support different device and app management approaches, he says.

“Remote and mobile working is no longer a nice to have; it is a business priority,” Holtby says. “Businesses will move from supporting pockets of remote work to becoming organizations that more fully embrace and support fluid workstyles. This brings a range of different technological, physical workplace, and cultural considerations. Businesses must ensure that employees can easily access work resources and data across different device types when needed, regardless of where they may be located.”

Another trend is a move to converge endpoint management and security, with UEM providers starting to take on more endpoint security capabilities, Hewitt says. “This can be as simple as an enabling a BitLocker enforcement policy or as advanced as doing behavioral anomaly detection on devices,” he says.

Also, the move toward UEM platforms to manage traditional clients using cloud-based MDM application programming interfaces (APIs) is accelerating, as organizations try to support a more mobile workforce, Hewitt says.

New capabilities offered by UEM vendors will go beyond endpoint analytics to enable digital employee experience management (DEX), Wilson says. “In addition to the collection of usage and performance data, DEX applies organizational context to map technology use to roles and business processes, provides a near limitless number of derived insights, and drives automation,” he says.

As endpoint management workloads migrate to the cloud via software-as-a-service (SaaS), the door will open for greater use of machine learning to reduce IT administrative and support overhead and improve employee experience, Wilson says. “This is the next evolution of endpoint management,” he says.

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