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Should IT use Apple Business Manager without MDM?

With the Apple Business Manager service, organizations can control Apple ID on device apps. But this may not be enough functionality for organizations to forego MDM entirely.

Organizations that deploy Apple iOS or iPadOS devices should consider Apple Business Manager alongside MDM to have strong deployment and enrollment options.

For example, preloading an image onto Apple mobile devices is only available with Apple-specific tools such as the App Configurator. This process is challenging, as it requires IT to touch every device they purchase and connect it to a macOS device that supports the tool.

The alternative is to use the Apple Business Manager service to preload the iOS with a preset mobile device management (MDM) app or on-device agent that can push out all the configurations to the iPad or iPhone once the user turns it on and connects it to the internet.

This is just one example where Apple Business Manager can ease mobile device administrators' workload. IT departments that manage iPadOS, iOS or other Apple mobile devices should learn exactly how Apple Business Manager can help and consider adding it to their device management toolkit. But can this service truly replace MDM, or is it best served as an additional management option?

What is Apple Business Manager?

Apple wants to help enterprise customers avoid the typical pain points of switching to or deploying new Apple mobile devices. With Apple Business Manager (ABM), organizations can streamline their deployment process significantly because it eliminates several steps required to manually deploy an MDM app onto the device.

The web portal is accessible for preregistered Apple customers with existing agreements and accounts. Once the IT team has selected the appropriate MDM platform, they will sign into ABM and add the MDM configuration. This will ensure that Apple preconfigures any future iOS-based devices purchased via the Apple business channel or an authorized Apple reseller that supports ABM.

Does Apple Business Manager require MDM?

While standalone MDM provides plenty of iOS management capabilities, preloading the MDM platform via Apple Business Manager eliminates the need for IT to sign in to the local Apple App Store and manually download the MDM app.

Overall, ABM has very limited functionality when it comes to device management and implementing security policies.

By comparison, Apple Business Manager as a standalone has some basic device management functionality, but Apple did not design this service for standalone use. If organizations do opt for the standalone ABM approach, they'll have access to some features such as:

  • visibility of all enrolled devices under Apple Business Manager;
  • the model, serial number and type of all devices;
  • urchasing apps through the Apple App store;
  • application assignments;
  • bulk purchases of applications and books, including internally developed apps;
  • distributing apps and content to devices;
  • managing billing payments from a central console; and
  • managing Apple IDs for corporate users.

IT administrators should not view the ABM as a replacement for MDM. It has some extremely useful features, as outlined above. It provides some valuable services, especially for Apple IDs and app purchases that are only available through Apple's portal. However, ABM overall has very limited functionality when it comes to device management and implementing security policies.

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