Mobile Device Management in 2012: More Challenges, More Opportunities

Mobile devices will be a way of life for your enterprise users. What changes in mobile IT can you expect and prepare for this year?

By Marco Nielsen, Vice President, Services, Enterprise Mobile

In 2012, mobile devices will further expand their role in the workplace. As we have all observed, the mobile workplace isn't just the office or the warehouse anymore. It has expanded to include airport terminals, loading docks and delivery trucks, physician waiting rooms, and even playing fields and family gatherings. Mobile devices have erased workplace boundaries, and as a result, employees can connect with their corporate networks almost anytime, anywhere.

The mobile technology that is easing access to business data and applications and providing various means of communications will continue to be embraced by users through 2012 -- and well beyond. For IT, however, mobile technology and the unprecedented pace of change in the mobile arena will create ever-present IT management challenges.

Several trends -- and the way companies react to them -- will create challenges for IT, as organizations attempt to exercise some control over devices that are not necessarily designed to be secure and manageable. With careful planning and an understanding of best practices and mobile device management (MDM) options, IT can go a long way toward meeting those challenges. With a well-implemented MDM strategy, enterprises can enforce corporate security policies without stifling user productivity.

Here is a look at some the most significant trends for 2012 and how they will influence the need for robust MDM capabilities.

2012 Mobile Prediction #1: The era of (B)ring (Y)our (O)wn (D)evice begins

Many companies have decided to allow employees to choose which mobile device they can use in the workplace. The company owns these mobile devices or employees BYOD . This asset management dynamic results in greater security risks along with more technologies for IT to grasp -- and quickly support. As the number of corporate- and individual-liable mobile devices accessing corporate networks increases, IT needs to find the most appropriate MDM solution for protecting vital company data and other assets.

Companies that have not yet devised an MDM strategy need to do so as soon as possible to help mitigate the risks of data security breaches, as well as the unintentional loss of confidential information. Whether employees use company-sanctioned mobility platforms and devices or use their own personal mobile devices, some degree of mobile device management is critical.

Creating an effective MDM strategy that covers both the mobile devices that companies purchase and/or those owned by the employees themselves typically begins with an assessment of risk tolerance. With an acceptable level of risk identified, IT then needs to evaluate the various strategies available for implementing MDM solutions. These strategies include software solutions, cloud-based offerings, and, for companies that want to entrust MDM to dedicated experts, wholly managed MDM alternatives.

Depending on IT staffing bandwidth and other IT resource needs, a fully outsourced MDM solution could be a logical choice. An outsourced solution would provide IT with the latitude and flexibility to tackle other strategic initiatives while ensuring that MDM best practices are consistently implemented through an expert third party.

2012 Mobile Prediction #2: The media tablet gains prominence

Another trend will continue to challenge mobile device management in 2012. Across industries, media tablets will continue to capture the imagination of executives, scientists, sales organizations, physicians, and just about anyone who can appreciate the rich computing experience they offer.

If your organization has yet to deploy tablets, there is a good chance that it will at least consider them in 2012. For users, tablets offer the opportunity to take advantage of powerful and dynamic applications that foster creative solutions while enhancing communications. After the year-end holidays in 2011, employees who have received tablets as gifts could bring them into the workplaces, creating further demand for them -- and yet another device management challenge for IT.

The best way to approach tablets is to recognize that, like smartphones, they will provide access to corporate resources. Even if a user is employing a tablet just to access a simple application, the risk of exposing valuable corporate data could still exist. Thus, an MDM strategy must cover tablets too.

Yet, many IT groups do not have the resources needed to keep up with the changes to operating platforms like Apple iOS and Android. They may also be unable to devote staff to the types of monitoring of mobility product roadmaps that they normally would allocate for their other computing investments.

2012 Mobile Prediction #3: The array of mobile device applications grows more diverse

The growing number of ways in which corporate users can acquire or access powerful applications, and the types and quantities of applications themselves, will also present IT with big challenges for MDM in 2012.

Growing support for HTML5 could accelerate the need for building native applications on each platform deployed within a particular enterprise. Even before deciding whether to adopt the HTML5 standard, both IT and business management must conduct a thorough review of the business requirements. Thus, HTML5 may not be optimal for every situation, but it could support all applications while potentially reducing the costs in creating multi-platform native applications. Each organization will have to weigh the merits of HTML5 in order to fully determine which best meets its technical and business needs.

Using a thin-client approach on a tablet could also be seen as a secure shortcut for supporting user access to known legacy desktop applications and may seem like the easy thing to do. On the plus side, those clients do simulate the legacy desktop; however, they may not adapt well to smartphone screens or devices that lack a mouse and keyboard.

2012 Mobile Prediction #4: Mobile devices and MDM evolve

Mobile devices have evolved at a breathtaking pace from the earliest limited point application devices that initially made them very popular. Individuals continue to rely on their mobile devices for personal information management, e-mail, contacts, and calendar functionality -- as well as rely on business- and consumer-specific applications to better manage their professional and personal lives.

All of the trends described here emphasize the need for best-practice mobile device management solutions that streamline application deployments and upgrades, as well as monitor and remove rogue applications that may threaten corporate security. Many of the MDM solutions available address those requirements by enabling the concept of enterprise application stores, in which approved applications can be identified, evaluated and delivered to employee devices. This is literally a one-stop-shopping approach for the applications employees need to perform their jobs.

Improve, Improve, Improve

In the end, the best way IT organizations can approach MDM for 2012 is to evaluate the approach they are taking to secure and manage all the mobile devices operating in their enterprise and continuously improve it to meet the ever-changing mobility ecosystem. Third-party experts in MDM are available to help IT organizations rapidly and effectively deploy MDM solutions that effectively manage mobile devices and operating systems.

Marco Nielsen is vice president of services at Enterprise Mobile, a business owned by Intermec that provides outsourcing and professional services for deploying, managing, and supporting the full range of mobile devices used in the enterprise. You can contact the author at info@enterprisemobile.com.

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