Workers are asking for a growing number of mobile services from enterprise IT. There are two fundamentally different ways to deliver these services. The first approach is to stick to a single mobile device platform linked to software for mobility management, messaging and applications deployment. The second method relies on multiple types of devices from different vendors accessing services from several different applications platforms. The single-vendor strategy is appealing because it is contained, secure and cost effective. However, the single-vendor approach has its own limitations, and a primary one is in the ability to deliver services to mobile telephones, handheld computers and any other device not considered to be a "smartphone."
IT managers using the single-vendor smartphone style solution already have answers about mobile device management, policy and process. Mobile middleware provides the management tools. The devices come from the carrier, and everything is secured through the carrier data connection.
Companies that anticipate supporting multiple types of mobile devices from different vendors have a broader set of challenges in managing corporate mobility. In this model, devices are provisioned by a combination of mobile operators, users and IT managers. We've already gotten the call about the VP or CEO who wants to use his Apple iPhone at work, and we know what's ahead of us.
The following are best practices recommendations for IT managers planning an architecture for corporate mobility management.
1. (Mobile) Workers
We talk a lot about "mobile workers," but the reality is that just about every worker is mobile in one way or another, so the term is redundant. It's time to get rid of the mobile in our vocabulary and start talking about workers and users.
When discussing the types of workers involved in a mobile solution, it also helps to talk about the amount of customer contact that these individuals have. For example, field service technicians spend most of their day interacting with customers. The number of customers and amount of face time reinforces the investment. After all, if the CEO can justify mobile email, then it's pretty easy to make a similar case for workers who spend quality time with 10 different customers each and every day.
2. Services are the goal
The goal of corporate mobility management is to create the infrastructure necessary for an IT organization to deliver mobile services to workers. What are these services? And why are they important?
Keeping the services in mind helps to keep things from getting sidetracked. Some mobile solutions just don't need real-time connectivity, and that simplifies things greatly for IT management. If you can get away with Wi-Fi, infrared, Bluetooth or even cradle-based sync, then there are fewer things to manage.
3. Plan for obsolescence
Soon enough, there will be no such thing as mobility because most aspects of enterprise computing will be mobile. The data centers aren't going anywhere and most of the offices will remain; but the idea of mobility as a standalone thing, divorced from enterprise management and architectures, has an extremely limited life. IT managers would be well advised to plan for the day when they integrate mobility management into the larger enterprise management platforms.
4. Take the driver's seat
The status quo in many IT organizations is for managers to rely on vendors for solutions to questions of mobility management, policy and process. This is a major mistake, because vendors' priorities are very different from yours. Also, it's your job to define precisely what you want -- and how your company wants mobility to work.
For example, suppose your organization already has policies in place for managing laptop computers. As you add smaller, more mobile devices to the mix, you have three choices: (a) manage these new devices in the same way you already manage laptops; (b) implement a new set of processes that build upon existing enterprise management experience; or (c) don't do anything at all. This is an active choice, and every IT manager in your company should understand the policy, the decision and the rationale behind the choice.
5. Ask, ask, ask
Mobility management vendors have been doing an excellent job of adding features and capabilities to their platforms, but it appears that many enterprise management vendors, device manufacturers and mobile operators have been spared these feature requests. Now is the time to start asking.
The how of asking is as important as the questions themselves, and there are two directions that mobility managers need to take: to move outside of mobility, and to move further into the vendors. The first direction is to involve the enterprise management team in the deliberations of the mobility team (if the two are separate) and to get the enterprise managers to start asking their vendors questions about mobility. It will also help to get these same colleagues into meetings with mobility-specific vendors asking about integration plans and product roadmaps.
The second direction is to ask the questions to get further into the vendor community. Most IT managers know their subject well, but when the time comes to navigate a vendor's internal org chart, few understand the differences among a sales rep, business development manager, a marketing manager and a product manager. Just because someone works for a vendor, that doesn't mean that he's going to know how to answer your questions and address the next steps. The goal is to get the product managers looking into new features (e.g., incorporating OTA features into existing mobility management platforms) and to get business development teams to help grease the wheels with the mobile operators.
And remember, you won't get anything if you don't ask.
6. Clear delineations
Another set of questions to ask mobile operators, platform vendors and even device manufacturers concerns a management roadmap. Ask each and every party how they envision things will work. Ask them where the demarcation point will be. Ask about worst-case scenarios.
The point about clear delineations is that nobody is asking about them. So the vendors don't hear about it and they don't think it's a potential problem.
However, IT managers tasked with managing mobility will be extremely well served to understand exactly who is doing what in relation to mobile devices, software and services.
7. Standard contracts
The goal for every IT organization should be to have a standard contract covering mobile device management roles and responsibilities that are shared between an enterprise and a mobile operator. The best way to address the issue of who owns which aspect of a mobile device is for a group of enterprises to get together and define a standard contract that each will use with mobile operators. This never happened with service-level agreements, and it appears that mobility management is headed in the same fragmented direction. Mobility managers should escalate this priority with corporate management, and perhaps it's time to tap the shoulders of those Apple iPhone users sitting in those executive offices.
Conclusion How corporate mobility management will evolve is our choice. We know that we will need to manage mobility in certain ways. We also know the services we want to deliver. Meanwhile, we know that carrier investments in OTA management technologies lead to potential conflicts between management approaches. We run the risk of over-writing management updates in an endless battle for control over mobile devices.
The question is whether we -- as mobile IT managers -- will work together to address the divide and conquer approach that we know the carriers will take in defining mobility management. Will there be standardized features and interfaces, or will we spend endless dollars negotiating and managing device management contracts with each mobile operator that provides us with service? It's our choice.
About the author: 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.