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Mobile asset management gives MDM more visibility

Mobile asset management gives IT new insight into employees' smartphone and tablet usage -- who owns them, their condition and more. It's a strong complement to MDM.

With more mobile devices entering the workplace and accessing company networks, it's vital that companies be able to control and monitor their access. Mobile asset management, though still in its fledgling stages, provides an answer to this need.

Mobile access to inventory management systems is important in many industries, including warehousing, logistics, utilities, wholesale and retail trade, and many others that depend on knowing which items are in stock and where they are. Plenty of applications and specialized Web and cloud services provide broad capabilities and detailed analytics to meet these needs.

The concern right now is keeping track of mobile devices and other mobile assets themselves: who owns them, what condition they are in, usage, failures of any form, service and support requests, and much more. Even with bring your own device (BYOD) gaining popularity as an alternative to corporate ownership, knowing which devices have access to IT resources makes mobile asset management essential. The difference, then, between inventory management and asset management is that the former involves sales, distribution and tracking inherently mobile assets essential to operations, while the latter is about visibility, cost control, security and integrity. As we'll see below, many mobile asset management programs provide a significant degree of overlap here.

Mobile asset management software is available as a standalone function, but we often see this capability implemented as part of mobile device management (MDM) software, which also includes configuration management, integrity control, backup and remote provisioning. Mobile asset management fits nicely here, as MDM systems can see essentially everything that is happening with a given mobile device.

Mobile asset management is perhaps best viewed as another element of MDM, with the number and range of the features enabled depending on local objectives, requirements and policies. After all, MDM usually involves additional software on a given mobile device, so mobile asset management fits nicely into the framework already established by MDM.

One of the key functions of mobile asset management is detailed operational record-keeping, which includes such information as purchase history, warranties, service history, maintenance and upgrades. Record-keeping can also include trouble reports and their resolutions, expense information, application history, and usage history. An analysis of the resulting database can be used to guide and refine future purchasing decisions and avoid devices with poor histories of usage, expense or reliability. We see a trend toward MDM software automatically updating this information with no user or network management staff intervention, lowering total cost of ownership and improving the return from investing in mobile asset management.

Mobile asset management is essential in any corporate-liable provisioning setup wherein the organization owns the mobile device. Asset management in this case is an extension of the numbered so-called "gold tags" traditionally used to identify capital assets and track their location and usage. In this case, the overlap between mobile inventory management and mobile asset management is often quite large, with mobile assets treated like any other valuable element of enterprise or organizational operations.

BYOD introduces a complicating element here, as the specific asset being managed in this case is not owned by the organization doing the managing. As is the case with MDM, however, the degree of management will be a function of specific local requirements and policies. As a result, any mobile asset management functionality should be treated like any other enterprise mobility management (EMM) concern, and carefully spelled out in both the local BYOD policy and the BYOD agreement executed by the organization and every participant in a BYOD environment.

One of the most interesting directions for mobile asset management overall is GPS and other tracking, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons. Knowing where a given device is and its specific set of permissions opens the door to location-based services, rapid access to critical people and equipment, and enhanced security. Privacy is a major issue in any tracking implementation, and one that remains largely unsettled at present. A legislative solution is almost assured but will likely take years, so the local policy must again be carefully considered with appropriate legal advice.

In the interim, organizations should consider their own requirements for mobile asset management. Those with high security and integrity requirements (such as utilities, healthcare, government and financial services) should keep detailed records on which devices are allowed, enabled for specific activities and perhaps even tracked by location in real time. As the functional consolidation of EMM overall continues, however, mobile asset management is likely to become very common and available by default to all organizations over the next few years.

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