There are two schools of thought about managed services. In one approach, you never outsource a task that you can deliver in-house. The other school of thought says that managed services are an excellent way to build out capabilities where none existed before. IT organizations with experience of in-house mobile solutions will have a solid understanding of the things to ask for in the RFP process. For everyone else, there are several best practices for defining and selecting managed mobile services for use as part or all of a mobile deployment.
Best practice No. 1: Have a policy -- any policy
Managed services companies are capable of enforcing a wide range of policies, but their capabilities are lost when no mobility policies are defined. The RFP process becomes much simpler when there are clear answers about device ownership, provisioning, management and software loads.
For companies new to mobility, the lack of any solution means that there are few policies and even fewer processes supporting mobile deployments. Many companies already have mobile telephony in place, and with cellular comes a host of processes for vendor management, device support and -- where appropriate -- expense reports and invoicing. Absent these processes, IT departments can find a clean-slate mobile deployment to be a daunting task.
One of the key components of a corporate mobility policy is an answer to the question of liability. Both corporate and personal liabilities have their place in the world, and it's best to know whether you're asking your managed services provider to manage 5,000 individual accounts; five shared-minute, corporate-liable plans; or the expense reports for those 5,000 users.
Best practice No. 2: Put corners around mobility
It's easy to start talking to a managed services company and to ask them to take over your entire IT function. I've often seen this happen. The less you know about mobility, the more likely you are to find yourself looking at a proposal with a few extra zeroes on it.
The antidote to scope creep is containment. Put some corners around your mobile project. Stay focused, and keep it under control. As you see more possibilities, put them on a back burner and concentrate on the core mission. If the goal is to provide the sales team with mobile access to an SFA application, then color within those lines, and save the bells and whistles for the update 12 months after you've deployed.
Best practice No. 3: WWAN, WLAN or sync?
Carrier data services can be a large source of operational expense, and many IT departments assume that they have to have the carrier service in order to deploy a mobile solution. This simply isn't the case, as many companies have been successful with campus WLAN and the simple-but-effective cradle synchronization for handhelds. Many solutions are better with full-time connectivity, but the decision to connect a thousand workers should be yours and yours alone.
Best practice No. 4: Decide where managed services are appropriate
In this series, we've covered the range of managed services available for enterprise deployments:
- Device management
- Hosted mobile email
- Carrier negotiation
- Handset provisioning
- Cellular bill management
- Managed mobile enterprise applications
For each of these services, there are numerous providers available to speed and simplify your mobile deployment. It's tempting to choose managed services across the board, but it's best to enter the RFP process with an understanding of the areas where managed services are appropriate -- and the other areas where your organization needs the capabilities that a managed services firm can offer.
There is no silver bullet, nor is there one right way to make use of managed services. The companies are there to help, so feel free to give them a call and start asking questions.
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.