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IT takes a 'no strings attached' approach to EMM vendors

With switching platforms made easy and new companies in the market, customer loyalty is a tough nut to crack for EMM vendors.

If you're considering shopping around for a new EMM vendor, you're not alone.

Enterprise mobility management (EMM) vendor loyalty isn't very high, according to industry watchers and a recent study.

Out of 514 respondents in this month's 451 Research Quarterly IT Decision Makers survey, 36% said they were likely to switch to a new mobility management vendor, compared to 21% who were unlikely to switch.

Reasons why customers switch EMM vendors vary on a case-by-case basis. One large, U.S.-based, multifaceted corporation is currently assessing options after using Good Technology, Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., one of the largest remaining independent EMM vendors.

While Good's mobile device management (MDM) tool experienced no glitches upon launch of Apple's iOS 8 operating system (OS), there were application issues, according to the large U.S. corporation’s mobile strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"When we had an upgrade in iOS, it kept us from deploying applications," the strategist said. "People were able to update their devices, but we had problems with deploying applications."

The company was unable to deploy those applications in iOS 8, keeping those users from accomplishing tasks on Good-secured apps.

It's important for vendors to have same-day support for new OSes, given how quickly any given OS is updated or new versions are released, said Chris Hazelton, research director for enterprise mobility at 451 Research in New York.

"There's no way an EMM vendor, or IT in general, is going to stop someone upgrading their device," Hazelton said. "So as an EMM vendor, you have to have that Day 1 support."

I liken my partnership to a marriage, in that it's definitely good until it's not.
James GordonVP of IT and operations, Needham Bank

While the large company didn't run into an iOS 8 support issue for device management itself, and acknowledged the issue wasn't necessarily Good's fault, the application problem was enough to make it consider other EMM vendors.

"We needed to make sure as soon as iOS 8.1 comes out, that we are not going to break because we are so reliant on mobility and those tools," the mobile strategist said.

Good was ready for iOS 8 on the first day, but the iTunes Store was downloading corrupted files to Good apps on the OS, causing the issue, said Christy Wyatt, Good Technology's CEO. Apple acknowledged the problem and Good worked with Apple in the aftermath on outreach for future ecosystem testing, Wyatt said.

While Good has "the best user experience from a containerized approach" of any EMM vendor, the mobile strategist said his company may go in a different direction to a vendor who will offer more flexibility around its mobility management approach.

"We're looking for the best of both worlds," the strategist said. "We're looking for a container that will allow us to possibly move to native in the future."

Good will provide a number of different strategies that it expects CIOs will need to provide to users themselves, Wyatt said.

Customers tell Wyatt users want native applications, and customers can run both the native applications and the applications within a container side by side, she said.

EMM options under consideration by the company include Citrix's XenMobile and VMware's AirWatch.

Mobile management must be more than MDM

Several mobility experts agreed that MDM is a commodity in the industry and most of the vendors offer little differentiation in MDM capabilities. Additionally, vendors such as SAP are moving away from a device-centric management approach to focus on applications and data.

What makes customers stay with an EMM vendor, in some instances, is the depth of other mobility features offered, and how ingrained those features are within enterprises. That includes application wrapping and content management, Hazelton said.

"I've spent all this money, and if I'm going to be wrapping [applications] with a specific MAM [mobile application management] capability, I'm beholden to that EMM vendor and it becomes less and less likely that I'm going to want, or be able, to switch," Hazelton said.

Vendors are sometimes willing to include device management features for free along with other products. For example, earlier this year Citrix offered free XenMobile MDM edition licenses or 20% off XenMobile Enterprise edition licenses when customers purchased XenDesktop and XenApp Platinum editions.

"There's not a lot of loyalty out there within the EMM space for your basic capabilities and that's why a lot of companies are bundling and selling items as a whole," Hazelton said.

Because of cloud-based deployments, it's easier than ever to put EMM clients on devices. But that easy provisioning process can also be a double-edged sword for vendors.

"Vendors have done a great job in creating very easily -deployed, optimized solutions that can be easily replaced," said Eric Klein, senior mobility analyst with VDC Research Group in Natick, Mass. "It can be good for them, but it makes it easy for a customer to switch to another competing product."

Should you stay or should you go?

Of course, some customers remain happy with the service they receive from EMM vendors, including Good Technology, with many customers comparing its product to others and still coming back to Good, Wyatt said.

Needham Bank in Needham, Mass. has used MobileIron, Inc., of Mountain View, Calif. for mobile management for years and has no plans to switch.

MobileIron's singular focus is mobility and it doesn't push other services, said James Gordon, first vice president of IT and operations at the bank.

"Mobility is what they do, and my expectations of them are higher than the rest," Gordon said.

Without referring to a specific vendor, it would be easy to go with another choice who just provides management for email, calendars and contacts on mobile devices, but that's not enough for Needham Bank. 

With vendors adding new features to EMM products, others acquired and new entrants joining the market, IT may also be lured to try something new. That hasn't happened with Needham Bank.

"There's the 'grass is greener' concept," Gordon said. "I liken my partnership to a marriage, in that it's definitely good until it's not. But I wouldn't for the life of me tell you I hate my wife."

But IT should tread carefully when considering a new mobility option.

"You never want to get trapped by the 'shiny new object' syndrome," said Craig Mathias, analyst and founder of the Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass. "You have to look at anything in IT as a cost-benefit analysis, and by cost we don't just mean dollar cost. There's opportunity cost."

When customers come to Good saying another product may be better for them, Wyatt isn't afraid to let them test it out.

"Our response is always: Go install it," Wyatt said. "Most of my customers have a lab somewhere. The CIO is responsibly benchmarking all the different vendors and that's a healthy thing."

More from Good's Wyatt on EMM vendor loyalty

"Every customer is looking annually at their strategy and their providers to make ensure they are still happy with their choices. ... We have absolutely seen, both over the Global 2000 and the midmarket, every single customer sit down over the past 12 to 18 months say, 'Did I make the right decision? Should I continue down this path?' I believe this is a really healthy thing. It's not that my technology isn't sticking. ... Each of our customers sitting down and going through that analysis is a very positive thing for us."

"For each of these customers it's been a two, three-month analysis and they give us a tremendous amount of feedback," Wyatt said "We're not seeing customers blindly switching things back and forth."

Plus, it's one thing to switch out back-end systems users can't see daily. But when admins start fiddling with a personal device, it risks alienating users.

"When you switch and it's a different experience for the user you're really jeopardizing their acceptance of those tools even being on the [device]," said Matt Kosht, IT director at a utility company in Alaska. "You can apply a new agent … and it ends up working against you, because they have options. Any user can bypass that completely."

So, how can IT keep a happy relationship with an EMM vendor? Suggestions include maintaining a list of requirements, keeping flexible contracts, provisioning in the cloud and, perhaps most importantly, holding quarterly conversations with the vendor to go over roadmaps and those requirements, Mathias said.

"I've found that the major vendors are more than willing to listen -- they're excited, in fact, about listening -- because all the best ideas come from the customer," Mathias said.

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