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Choosing an MDM system: Fundamental features for success

Every MDM system is different, but they share some common features. Provisioning, security and alerts are the meat and potatoes of a good mobile device management strategy.

An MDM system offers IT control over employees’ smartphones and tablets, but with so many MDM features available, IT pros have to decide which they need most.

A few months ago I sat down to produce a diagram of the many functions that might be included in a mobile device management (MDM) system. Unfortunately, completing such a list is near impossible because of the sheer number of features and modes in which IT can deliver an MDM system. Plus, MDM is only part of what many are calling enterprise mobility management (EMM), and listing all of those features opens another can of worms.

At this point, I can at least put a stake in the ground as to the key functional elements of MDM. Before we get to the specifics, there are two things IT pros must consider: First, will IT install and manage the MDM system in-house, or will it be a service from a third party or a carrier? And second, what mobile devices and operating systems does the MDM system need to support? This question is particularly important for any organization implementing even a partial bring your own device (BYOD) strategy.

It would take many pages to list all of the functions possible under the general heading of MDM, but these are the major MDM system features that most organizations require:

  • Provisioning/onboarding: The ability to get users and devices on the network is increasingly a self-service function. Users connect to the network via a portal, which accommodates both personal and corporate liability.
  • Configuration management, including detection of unauthorized or potentially dangerous changes such as jailbreaking, verification, function locking (where appropriate) and more.
  • Inventory management, which includes both devices and apps, is particularly important in enterprise-liability implementations.
  • Security: An essential function in any MDM system, it can include virus checks and updates, firewall, encryption, authentication, remote lock, remote wipe, virtual private network setup and configuration and related management features. Role- and policy-based security options are becoming quite common here.
  • Alerts and alarms, which are useful for conditions such as roaming, exceeding usage quotas and many other organization-specific conditions.
  • Monitoring, analytics and reporting, which are also vital for monitoring what mobile users are doing. Logging and history are also as important in an MDM system as they are in any IT management function.

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Why do we need master data management systems?

A centralized console (via a browser-based interface, of course) is essential, and so is telecom expense management as applied to the mobile world. Managing mobile applications -- enabling, whitelisting, blacklisting and other functions related to local and cloud-based apps -- is also important. None of these requirements involve managing devices on a case-by-case basis, and all are more global in scope than with respect to mobility alone.

The MDM/EMM world is highly fragmented today, with dozens of players and no single company offering a complete program. Consolidation in terms of both functionality and corporate acquisitions will come, but hopefully so will standards that allow more modular implementations and interoperability. In fact, given the continuing rapid evolution of mobility management and the overwhelming task of defining and building a comprehensive MDM system, buyers seeking optimal MDM applications and services may ultimately demand both standards and modularity for cost control and maintaining the sanity of staff members.

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