From MDM to UEM in a decade: What we’ve learned about enterprise mobile management

Ten years ago, managing mobile devices at work required a hodgepodge collection of apps and services — and the BYOD craze only complicated things further for IT. Here’s a look at how EMM shifted and grew, where we are, and what comes next.

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In 2010, Apple launched its platform for iOS device management, a move that put third-party vendors at the heart of the enterprise mobility management (EMM) industry. A lot has happened during the years since, including the BYOD craze, new app development and deployment models, Android Enterprise, the failure of Microsoft’s mobile device platform, and a pandemic that turned everything about work on its head.

As we inch back to a more normal work experience, it seems like a good time to reflect on how enterprise mobility has enabled workers in every industry, how IT has managed mobility, how companies have leveraged mobile platforms to transform the way we work, and how mobile has changed our very conception of work. As we do, we’ll look at some of the lessons IT has learned along the way.

Enterprise mobility became about much more than managing mobile devices

Between 2010 and 2012, the EMM industry virtually exploded with companies new and old before consolidating sharply. As mobile devices became ever more entwined with our work and personal lives, EMM changed from an add-on technology to one that is built by major enterprise computing vendors and bundled with other enterprise management services.

At the same time, the capabilities of EMM products grew, starting with simple mobile device management (MDM) and adding in mobile application management (MAM), mobile content management (MCM), network and service management, advanced security features, and the ability to manage additional devices such as PCs and Internet of Things devices. Nowadays most EMM vendors call their products Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) platforms.

Device ownership has become far less important than we initially thought

Five to ten years ago, there was a lot of fretting about whether the user or the company should own each smartphone or device.  There were major debates over the efficacy of BYOD (bring your own device), where the user owns the device; COPE (company owned, personally enabled); and COBO (company owned, business only), with the device locked down to do only work tasks.

As enterprise mobility has progressed, this debate has largely vanished. Yes, some companies do BYOD, often providing a stipend to employees for using their own tech. Other companies do COPE. At the end of the day, there is not a huge gap between these two approaches — both blend personal and work activities on the same device. What’s more important is how the devices are managed, not who owns them.

Privacy became a crucial IT deliverable, regardless of device ownership

Trust became core competency for IT as a result of mobile. No matter who owns the device, employees have an expectation of privacy and concern for any personal information — anything from family photos and health metrics to location data and what games they play — to be secure and not subject to deletion or viewing by IT staff.

The good news is that all of today’s EMM platforms can enable this separation. Having this capability and using it in conjunction with effective policies is only half the battle, however. IT must educate users about these privacy policies and build bridges of trust through user engagement. This has not changed since day one.

Apple and Google took different paths but ended up in much the same place

Both iOS and Android have the ability to dedicate apps, storage, and configurations for personal use and business use. But what this looks like on-device isn’t the same. Apple’s approach is to make sure everything on the device delivers a consistent experience, whether the user is working or performing personal tasks. An enterprise app that is managed by an EMM service looks exactly the same as an app downloaded from the App Store.

Android Enterprise does the exact opposite, with visual cues to indicate to users that an app or file is managed. These cues may not deliver the consistency that Apple strives for, but they are great reminders of what is and is not personal on the device.

Android Enterprise goes further than iOS in that it creates a completely separate work profile on the device, but both platforms keep work apps and data separate from personal apps and data.

Microsoft gave up on its own mobile OS and discovered its true calling as an EMM vendor

One of the surprising aspects of enterprise mobility (or mobility in general) is that there are so few operating systems to choose from: it’s just iOS and Android. Microsoft did try to crack that duopoly by launching a string of mobile operating systems — most notably by launching Windows Phone in 2010. But the OS was never more than an also-ran. It offered numerous benefits and innovations and could’ve ruled the enterprise mobility space, but Microsoft took too long to get it out the door and focused on its consumer features rather than its nascent enterprise capabilities.

Microsoft eventually threw in the towel and looked for other ways to profit from the enterprise mobility market. The biggest was bringing Office to iOS and Android. It may seem a no-brainer today, but Microsoft had previously kept Office off other platforms, trying to position it as a reason to buy into Windows Phone.

Microsoft eventually went much further and developed Intune, a cloud-based enterprise mobility management suite that is now part of its broader Endpoint Manager UEM platform.

Apps modernization became a major refrain

The real value in mobility isn’t the device itself, it’s in the apps that run on the device. And simply placing a desktop app on a mobile device really doesn’t cut it. Apps need to be reengineered for mobile. This takes money, time, and other resources to do successfully.

Many companies are still working on modernizing their apps, a process that should be seen as a journey and not a sprint. It is worth the time and effort to do right.

Shadow IT threatened to upend the entire notion of dedicated IT but also offered remarkable new ways of user-IT engagement

Mobile (and to a lesser extent cloud) technology gave business users a power they never had before — to decide which apps they wanted to use and to develop workflows that might be completely unknown to IT. With low-code platforms, users can even build their own apps.

If IT tries to lock everything down, it’s shooting itself in the foot, because users can simply unenroll their devices from management and disconnect from corporate Wi-Fi. The shadow practices continue, but now IT doesn’t know what’s going on — and cannot safeguard company data.

The only effective solution to this shadow IT beast is to reach out and engage with users. If shadow IT is rampant in your organization, it’s almost certainly because you’re not providing the tools people need to do better at their job. The onus is on you to find out workers’ pain points and help them find and deploy tools that are effective, secure, and standards-compliant.

You don’t have to build every mobile app yourself

Many companies have discovered that they don’t have to build everything: there’s a whole constellation of business apps they can buy (via one-time fee or subscription) and add to their portfolio. In some cases, free apps or apps that are included in enterprise license agreements for other tools (such as Office) allow you to build a portfolio without breaking the bank. Some even plug into other enterprise services, creating an experience that crosses from desktop to mobile.

The best practice is to look at the market before you start coding. You might find exactly what you need (or something close enough) out there, or you might not. But by looking to the market, you can gain a large amount of information that can help you in the design process.

A few places to start this search:

  • Look through your existing enterprise software licenses. In many situations, there are apps that come bundled from a vendor that you might have initially overlooked if mobile wasn’t an explicit requirement at the time.
  • Check out what’s available in Apple’s public App Store or the Google Play Store, both of which have a great selection of business and productivity tools to choose from.
  • Reach out to colleagues at other organizations in your field to see what they are using and what the advantages of each product may be.
  • Finally, ask your users. Chances are they’ve looked for apps to help them be more productive or efficient already. This also ties into taming shadow IT, because you’re engaging people and asking them what works best for them.

Sometimes remote work isn’t about mobility

Although the pandemic showcased the ability to be productive at home as well as in the office, it did so by simply migrating the contents of a cubicle onto a dining room table. That was a huge project for everyone involved, but for many it was just changing the location rather than enabling true mobility.

In fact, mobility took a bit of hit over the past year. Although we weren’t in the office, we weren’t out and about. Most business travel dried up, and we were more stationary than mobile. This doesn’t mean, however, that tools like smartphones and tablets didn’t get used — in fact, many of us used them more as they became our primary office phone.

It also doesn’t mean that companies’ prior experience in managing mobile devices wasn’t useful. That many organizations already had tools and mobile policies in place made the transition to remote much easier. This year also highlighted the importance of open and ongoing communication among co-workers and between IT and other parts of the business.

We’re just scratching the surface of what enterprise mobility can be

Looking back to where this space was a decade ago, it is astonishing how much mobile has changed our lives (work and personal). And the pace of innovation and change isn’t slowing down any. If the past decade was about getting mobile into the workplace, I suspect the next is going to be when we begin to take full advantage of these technologies.

Voice interfaces and the concept of ambient computing will surely be among the areas to watch. Many of us have gotten a taste of what that may be like with digital assistants. One of the fascinating aspects of computing by voice is that it disaggregates tasks from devices. I can ask Siri to set reminders or calendar items or send event invitations simply by speaking them aloud, and it doesn’t really matter which device— phone, Mac, watch, or HomePod — picks up the request or where I am — home, office, driving, on public transit, etc.

Powering all of this, of course, is the continued evolution of cloud technologies. Where the past 10 years saw massive adoption of cloud offerings, they started out primarily as simple storage solutions and have now become so much more than that. As more and more technologies move to the cloud (including options like Microsoft’s Cloud PC), opportunities to push what the cloud can be will continue. And with AI and machine learning fueling ever deeper understanding of our business data, there is going to be a lot that we can learn and leverage.

Augmented reality is another area of growth that we haven’t truly seen shine yet. Google Glass and Pokemon Go gave us a glimpse of how the physical and digital worlds can coexist. Apple and Google are pushing the boundaries of how best to deliver value and whether or not that requires special glasses or just your smartphone.

Mobile will see all of these technologies evolve into a common ambient computing experience that surrounds us as we go about our day. And there are bound to be further lessons we learn along the way.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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