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Mobile device management -- Practical techniques

A well-thought-out mobile device management strategy is often the key to the success or failure not just of a given mobile deployment but of an IT department overall. In this tip, Craig Mathias provides a checklist of key elements for your mobile device management strategy.

A well-thought-out mobile device management strategy is often the key to the success or failure not just of a given mobile deployment but of an IT department overall. In this tip, Craig Mathias provides a checklist of key elements for your mobile device management strategy.


I don't know why this is, but management always seems to be the last thing anyone thinks about when planning that new enterprise IT capability. I can't tell you how many times I've been sitting in a meeting -- talking about the latest in wireless and mobile technologies, devices, systems, services and strategies -- and brought up the subject of just how these might fit into the enterprise's IT management structure. It's like I'm mom and I've taken away the ball and bat, and told everyone to wash up for dinner. Fun time's over, and now the real and often difficult work begins.

As well it should. In my experience, a well-thought-out mobile device management strategy is often the key to the success or failure not just of a given mobile deployment but of an IT department overall. Think about it: Much (if not most) of an organization's IT capabilities – computing, networks and information – are mobile today, meaning they're out beyond the traditional four walls of the enterprise and subject to loss, theft, misuse, compromise and all manner of challenges from support to damage control when something really goes wrong.

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I'm not going to suggest a specific mobile device management solution in this column, mostly because there are so many on the market, and one size most certainly does not fit all. Rather, let me present a checklist of the key elements of a mobile device management strategy, something that can at a minimum get your thoughts moving in the direction that's right for you. The key capabilities are as follows:

  • First, as I've noted before, don't even think about developing a mobile computing strategy without an acceptable-use policy and a corporate security policy in place. Defining what users may and may not do with enterprise equipment and information is critical. I recommend two-factor authentication, but at the very least some form of acceptable-password enforcement should be present.

  • Next, add mobile devices to your asset management system. It's important to keep track of who has what, if for no other reason than that your CFO might ask.

  • Then think about configuration management -- what settings and applications should be present on the mobile device. As part of this, remote configuration and update allows problems to be fixed remotely in the field and can cut IT support costs. I always suggest a "zap" feature to erase any information on the mobile device if it's lost or stolen, and a whitelist mechanism to define which applications are allowed on the device.

  • Synchronization and backup are clearly both very important. Sync can include both coarse-grained (files) and fine-grained (emails, calendars, contacts), and sync can be performed over a wide-area wired or wireless network, a LAN, Bluetooth or USB, and to a specific computer or to a server. Configurations can be tricky here, and again it's very important to define precisely what is allowed. Don't forget about mobile-device backup as well.

  • I like using a central management console to administer mobile devices and to make sure all drivers, virus definitions, firewall settings and related items are properly configured.

  • Define remote access capabilities, including remote LAN access and/or remote control of specific machines if that's a service you intend to allow.

  • Finally, make sure you have a mechanism for monitoring, usage reports and related services. These should be available to your help desk as well.

As I noted above, the exact combination of products and services required in any given case can be determined only by an analysis of the specific IT objectives of a given organization, and related policies. And, oh yes, costs need to be carefully considered as well – and not just the costs of products and services. It's important to keep in mind that what we're really doing here is optimizing the costs related to the users of all of this functionality. As with anything related to IT, the bottom line is productivity, not technology.

About the author: Craig Mathias is a principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm based in Ashland, Mass., specializing in wireless networking and mobile computing. The firm works with manufacturers, enterprises, carriers, government, and the financial community on all aspects of wireless and mobile. He can be reached at craig@farpointgroup.com.


This was last published in February 2007

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