Enterprise mobility is complex, involving everything from the latest smartphone and handheld devices to carrier wireless services and the newest computing architectures. Keeping tabs on the latest that the industry has to offer is difficult for just about any IT department.
Throughout the ages -- or at least the ages of information technology -- managed services have proved to be a viable way for managers to access the latest technologies without having to regularly develop highly portable skill sets "in house."
Managed services can take many shapes and sizes, but any managed service will be designed to take responsibility for some aspect of a function commonly managed in house by an IT or telecoms department. As such, managers should look for the same features and capabilities in any service offering. This article discusses those capabilities in greater depth.
Unlike professional services, which address projects on a one-time basis, managed services are an ongoing contracted engagement that is budgeted and invoiced periodically, usually monthly. A key advantage of this approach is the difference between capital investment and operational expenses. An IT department may pay more money on a monthly basis but will avoid the up-front capital investment that many in-house solutions incur. A managed service can deploy quickly, and the financing model can yield a positive return on investment (ROI) more quickly than internally funded deployments.
In enterprise mobility, the number and types of managed services are many, but there are two types that represent the capabilities managed services have to offer: hosted mobile e-mail and line-of-business applications.
Hosted mobile e-mail
Mobile e-mail is a very popular enterprise application, and a growing number of managed services facilitate the management and delivery of corporate e-mail to mobile devices. Some will be quick to point out that Research In Motion manages a large component of its mobile e-mail service from its data center in Waterloo, Ontario, but BlackBerry e-mail is a carrier service, and enterprises still find themselves with a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) in their data centers, and at least one IT manager is responsible for administering BlackBerry services in house.
In contrast, there are many companies that do not want to get into the business of managing a BES, or a Microsoft Exchange server, internally. For these companies, a number of managed services exist to offload the full responsibility for corporate e-mail and the components necessary to deliver that e-mail to a mobile device. Florida-based MailStreet provides Microsoft Exchange hosting and mobile access via BES, GoodLink, and Windows Mobile. HP offers a similar service, supporting mobile access via ActiveSync, and startup 4SmartPhone offers a complete bundle of Exchange hosting with mobile access designed specifically for smartphone users.
In recent discussions across the industry, it has become apparent that there is a large demographic of mobile workers who do not use e-mail on a day-to-day basis. For these workers, mobile access to other forms of messaging (e.g., SMS and Instant Messaging), as well as enterprise applications, is paramount. Hosted application provider Salesforce.com recently acquired Sendia, adding mobile access capabilities to its popular salesforce automation service. The appeal of a solution like Salesforce.com is the rapidity with which a company can deploy a mobile application, though the presumption is that mobile devices and connectivity are already positioned and in place.
Device provisioning and support are important components of any mobile solution, and today wireless operators offer many of these capabilities. Because carriers can readily deliver and provision the handset, it's a logical next step for the wireless operator to sell a managed line-of-business application as well. This is the idea behind mFORMS, a managed mobile applications service from Rogers Communications in Canada. The company behind mFORMS is Ottawa-based TrueContext, which has put together a managed application service that combines Rogers' Tier 1 help desk for handling device and network issues with applications support coming from Tier 2 provider HP Managed Services.
These services are by no means exhaustive, merely representative of the managed solutions available today. The section that follows discusses the things that IT managers should look for when evaluating managed mobility services.
What to look for in a managed service
Managed services are clearly defined service offerings that should be noticeably distinct from the "whatever you want" approach commonly found in professional services. Below are the three things that all managed services should have:
- Multi-tenancy: In hosted applications environments, multi-tenancy is extremely important because it addresses the back-end technology platform supporting the managed service. Suppose a company has a Siebel application in house. The cost of administering and supporting that application is pretty much the same whether an in-house team or a third party is involved.
In the early days of application hosting, service companies found themselves in the business of hosting individual instances of each application, meaning that each customer presented an altogether new application. The result was that there were no economies of scale, and individual customers were on individual instances of enterprise applications, frequently on individual server systems. A multi-tenant platform allows a service provider to run a single instance of the application, supporting multiple corporate customers and thousands of individual users.
- Service-level agreements: As with any IT process, there should be a clearly articulated service-level agreement (SLA) for the managed service component. The SLA should encompass application uptime, performance, support, and the process for handling disputes. The purpose of the SLA is to provide IT managers with a template to use in developing processes and budgets for interacting with the managed service.
- Clear service delineation: This goes in lockstep with the SLA. Any managed service should be clearly defined and delineated, especially when third parties are involved. For example, a hosted mobile application may be performing poorly, but the managed services provider claims that the problem is in the carrier network. For situations like these, the managed services provider should have a clearly defined set of policies and processes in place, directing the customer what to do and how to do it. Managers should look for services where there are fees for additional services, such as troubleshooting, where resources are involved. It is far better to know that a service is available for a price than to hope that it is available free of charge.
The growing number of managed services for enterprise mobility offer many choices for enterprise IT managers. Whether the service provides hosted mobile e-mail or a line-of-business application, IT managers should look for a multi-tenant platform, clearly defined services, and written service-level agreements. These three things will help managers to support their mobile users in a pinch.
Daniel Taylor is managing director for the Mobile Enterprise Alliance, Inc. (MEA), and he is responsible for global alliance development, programs, marketing and member relations. He brings over fourteen years of high technology experience and is well known as a subject matter expert on many of the aspects of mobility, including wireless data networking, security, enterprise applications and communications services. Prior to the MEA, Dan held a number of product marketing and development positions in the communications industry.