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Mobile device management: Part I -- Decisions, decisions, decisions

Daniel Taylor looks at five high-level decisions that IT managers need to make concerning mobile device management. The questions addressed are the same ones that IT managers frequently address as part of a larger company-wide mobility policy.

As Microsoft steps up its efforts in the mobility space, more and more mobile devices are making their way -- through the front door -- into the enterprise. The once-sleepy personal digital assistant (PDA) and smartphone markets have been on a collision course for a number of years, and PDAs and cell phones are now packaged as one single device, the smartphone. In addition to functioning as mobile telephones, today's smartphone devices offer data connectivity options that include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and carrier wireless data services.

The merger of computing capabilities with an always-on cellular device presents a number of opportunities and challenges for enterprise IT departments. Smartphone devices provide a flexible range of computing and communications options that merge personal information management with business e-mail and calendaring functions that mobility managers can use as a launching point for mobile enterprise applications such as sales force automation, inventory, ordering, and expense management. At the same time, the range of platforms and the rate at which devices are arriving in corporate environments present a number of challenges for IT departments tasked with supporting smartphones and other user-provisioned mobile devices.

In the coming months and years, IT managers will have to make a series of decisions about mobile computing. The good news is that there are various software platforms available today that handle the functions of mobile device management, applications development, and deployment. The bad news is that IT departments will be unable to make every user happy.

In this article, we look at five high-level decisions that IT managers will need to make concerning mobile device management, and next month we'll go into greater depth on the individual policy questions of device management. Also, the questions addressed here are the same ones that IT managers frequently address as part of a larger company-wide "mobility policy."

  1. Heterogeneity and ownership: These topics address the range of devices in a mobile enterprise environment, as well as the question of who owns, manages and provisions the devices. The issue here is whether IT management wants to support multiple types of devices and platforms or whether they wish to standardize on a single platform, operating system, and device image. Some IT departments will "lock down" their networks, limiting access to IT-approved devices; others will embrace with open arms a broad range of user-purchased devices. There are advantages to either approach, and there's no "right" answer. Different types of users will have different requirements, so it may be likely that an IT department may have a "locked down" solution in a warehouse while offering a broad range of user device choice in managerial or salesforce applications.

  2. Application set: At first, IT may support a limited number of applications, and the only requirement may be mobile e-mail support, in which case, BlackBerry Connect or Exchange connectivity may be the only device requirement. Given the growing number of devices that support both of these requirements, IT may be able to service this application set while offering users a number of device options.

  3. Product lifecycles: With any platform decision, IT will need to determine mobile device lifecycles, including operating system support and applications upgrades. This area is currently the most difficult for enterprise IT departments because many mobile devices come from the consumer, retail channel and have six- or nine-month lifecycles that make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to standardize and deploy on one single device type. IT managers should choose a lifecycle with which they are comfortable and select platforms accordingly.

  4. User self-provisioning: No matter what we do, holidays and birthdays come around like clockwork and users will be looking to IT for support. IT management should think long and hard about what they want to tell their users. One option is to send them packing. Another choice is to provide limited application support and some form of mobile e-mail. Also, given the likelihood of this happening, there should be some decision about who pays for mobile data services and whose responsibility it should be to provision these services. The same holds for ringtones and game downloads, which should be addressed in the corporate mobility policy.

  5. User involvement: Many successful mobile enterprise deployments have involved user groups in policy, user interface, and application development. As IT organizations develop device and applications strategies, it's an excellent idea to use surveys and user committees as ways to solicit feedback. In the long run, different user communities will "own" their mobile applications, so it's best to involve them from the beginning.

As these decision points demonstrate, there is no single place to start in developing a program for mobile device management. The best thing to do is to put ideas to paper and start sharing them with as many constituencies as possible. It's important for IT management to be perceived as a facilitator for enterprise mobility, and the new range of smartphones and ultraportable personal computers provide a context within which managers can gain trust and involvement from a new generation of empowered end users.

It's almost impossible today to have a discussion about the mobile enterprise that doesn't include the topic of mobile e-mail. BlackBerrys, Treos, and a range of smartphones are the first things that come to mind when thinking of workforce mobility. Meanwhile, the most widely deployed mobile business device isn't a laptop and doesn't even have a QWERTY keyboard – it's the cell phone.

In 2006, businesses are expected to spend well in excess of $150 billion on cellular telephony. Research firm Strategy Analytics predicts that, at the same time, these same businesses will spend approximately $22 billion on wireless data services, the most popular of which is Short Message Service (SMS), otherwise known as text messaging. Second to SMS is mobile e-mail.

To put these numbers into perspective, for every $10 that businesses spend on cellular telephony, they spend an additional dollar for SMS and another 50 cents for mobile e-mail. In most businesses, cellular telephony is -- by an order of magnitude -- the largest mobility expense.

In this context, the opportunity for enterprise IT and telecoms departments is to begin managing cellular devices and services, using the mobile device footprint to launch a range of services that enable mobile workers to be more productive and effective.

At the same time, corporate IT and telecom departments are wary of becoming the "traffic cop," telling users what they can and cannot do. As phones evolve and users continue to demand services for telephony, SMS and mobile e-mail, there are ways that corporate IT and telecom departments can begin managing an integrated set of cellular and wireless data technologies while improving the services that they offer to workers.

In the recommendations that follow, we discuss the ways in which enterprise IT and telecom departments can begin sharing responsibility for a device that has long been considered to be "personal," even in situations where it is used primarily for work.

  1. Mobility policy: If you don't already have one, develop a clear and simple mobility policy for cellular. This policy should answer the basic questions of who gets which devices and services. Also, the policy should define who is responsible for specific kinds of expenses. If users want a more expensive handset, who pays and what is the process? The policy should also contemplate scenarios for game and ringtone downloads, personal calls, and other common situations. Most important, users should be involved in developing this policy, with surveys and other types of feedback integral to the process. Instead of presenting an edict from corporate management, a mobility policy should provide a menu of options that gives users what they want in a way that manages costs.

  2. Consolidated purchasing: Work with your wireless operator to select the plans that are right for your company and workers. There are numerous options for minute sharing among a pool of workers. Also, wireless operators can offer billing options to account for business and personal expenses. The focus here should be to provide users with choices without limiting their options. For example, the next time a worker decides to download a ringtone, he should be able to do so at his own expense.

  3. Fixed-mobile integration: There is a growing number of practical technologies that provide connectivity between the corporate PBX and cellular telephones. These approaches rely on simple architectures to provide integration with voice mail systems, corporate directories, cost accounting, and long-distance call routing features. Incorporating an application running on the user handset, mobile workers can easily manage voice mails and send messages to co-workers.

  4. Mobile e-mail: This is no longer the domain of $400 handsets, smartphones and high-price data services. For many workers, the value of mobile e-mail is in sending and receiving messages from anywhere, without turning on a computer or finding a Wi-Fi hotspot. At an entry price of a few dollars per month, the current generation of mobile e-mail services supports a broad range of cell phones with software that enables remote management, security, and mobile device data wipe. These capabilities give enterprise IT and telecoms managers a managerial footprint on what has long been considered to be the proprietary domain of the end user.

There are two ways for enterprise IT and telecom departments to think about cellular and the mobile enterprise. In the first approach, IT maintains the status quo of decentralized purchasing for cellular, and telecom managers become the "traffic cop." Users make their own selections, the devices are unmanaged, and costs spiral out of control. In the alternative scenario, IT and telecom managers offer an increasingly feature-rich set of "choices" for mobile workers. Users can select from a range of devices, services and solutions for telephony, messaging and applications; and IT gains a manageable footprint from which to launch new mobile enterprise services.

Daniel Taylor
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.

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