Magazine Article | November 19, 2008

Don't Forget About Mobile Device Management

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Experts offer insight on why you need an MDM (mobile device management) solution, and how to implement one in your company.

Integrated Solutions, December 2008

If you have a mobile workforce, you should have an MDM solution. If you currently have mobile devices in the field and don't have MDM in place or are planning to deploy mobile devices, keep reading to find out why you should invest in MDM, what you should look for in an MDM solution, and tips for deployment. Although there are multiple one-off or point solutions that perform singular security functions, such as virus scans, I spoke with some industry experts that recommend investing in an integrated MDM solution that performs multiple functions, including securing your mobile devices.

With mobile workers in the field, your company's data is dispersed all over. This poses the potential risk of sensitive information, including customer names, credit card information, and corporate data, being lost or stolen. According to Jose Vega, marketing manager at Datalogic Mobile, you owe it to your customers to secure this data. "An important question to ask yourself when considering whether or not to deploy an MDM solution is whether it's worth the risk not to," says Vega. "If sensitive information gets out, not only can that hurt your business, it can damage your integrity when people find out."

Indeed, with today's advanced mobile devices, there can be quite a bit of data to lose. "It's now common for mobile devices to have at least 64 MB of RAM and often a removable storage card with up to 8 GB," says Lee Wagner, VP of enterprise wireless and mobility practice at inCode. "This means that a single lost mobile device can potentially expose as much data as a lost laptop would have four or five years ago."

Securing your data isn't the only advantage of an MDM solution; MDM offers various efficiency gains to a company. For instance, MDM enables you to control the configuration of all your devices from a central location. "If you have a large field service fleet, you may never see all of your mobile devices again after the initial deployment. Thus, it can become complex to manage the devices and be sure everyone is running the correct application versions, etc.," says Kelly Ungs, principal product manager at Intermec Technologies. "MDM allows a company to monitor each device and send out application updates from a central location."

This central control also provides a company with the capability of remote control and troubleshooting. Rather than a mobile worker having to ship a device into the IT depot, the IT depot can use the MDM software to see what's going on in the device and even make repairs. "With MDM, software issues can often be fixed remotely, on the spot," says Sam Qita, senior product manager of software at Psion Teklogix. "This saves companies employee downtime, eliminates shipping costs, and prevents devices being unnecessarily sent to the IT depot."

As mentioned previously, security can be part of an integrated MDM solution. There are various levels of security, including password protection, remote locking of the device if it is lost or stolen, or even the ability to wipe out all of the data on the device. I also mentioned the MDM functionalities of software and configuration management, which allow you to remotely assign software and updates to a device and configure device settings, respectively. "Some MDM vendors also provide performance and diagnostics information, such as memory usage, battery life, and network information," says Wagner. "The solution can be customized to create reports and alerts based on this information." According to Ungs, this reporting can help your company comply with Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX). "With SOX, you have to keep track of configuration changes if they're related to discounts or pricing. If someone updates a discount file and sends it to the field, you have to keep a record of this," he says. "Most MDM solutions have tracking mechanisms and reporting capabilities that will allow you to record and retrieve this information." Another function to look for in your MDM solution is the ability to back up the information on your mobile devices. This allows you to restore a device in the instance of a failure without losing important data.

It is also important to consider what MDM solution will fit into your infrastructure. "It is important to look for an MDM solution that will support devices from different vendors," says Ungs. "If you purchase an MDM based only on what device you are currently using, you may end up purchasing another if you switch devices." As with any technology investment, it is important to look into your company's future and plan ahead. For instance, if you are planning to move your mobile workforce toward a PDA or smartphone, look for a solution that will work with your current device and will transition to the new device as well.

Once you've chosen the appropriate MDM solution based on your company's needs, what comes next? "Most MDM solutions reside on a server at a central location. That server works in both push and pull mode. In pull mode, the server is gathering data from each of the devices. In push mode, you can send out updates, etc. from the server," says Qita. Basically, deployment consists of installing a software client on the device to enable communication from the MDM software that is installed on the server. The client provides extracted information from the device to the server, which sits inside the firewall of the corporation. The server stores information about all of the devices that are deployed.

The other consideration of deployment is training, which is twofold. "Device users have to be trained on how to log on to the device, what to do if it locks, etc. Managers have to be trained on how to monitor the devices, send application updates, and troubleshoot," says Vega. He suggests leaning on your MDM vendor for support with training, and making sure the information is disseminated well so that all users are educated on how to use the MDM solution. "There are different levels of security [i.e. log in, password protection, shut down, etc.]; try phasing them in to gain understanding with your mobile workers and ease the transition," suggests Qita.

One of the questions I asked the experts was whether or not an MDM solution was as important for companies with smaller mobile forces as compared to those with large mobile workforces. The answer was yes. "I'd argue that in small companies, MDM is just as beneficial because people in these companies are often wearing multiple hats, and resources are stretched thin," says Vega. "The efficiency that remote management and troubleshooting provides is just as important, if not more, to small companies." It seems the longer you wait to deploy an MDM solution, the longer you are putting your company's sensitive information at risk and missing out on efficiency gains. So, why wait? According to Wagner, many companies do. "In a lot of organizations, MDM is considered to be on a future roadmap and is a lower priority than other technology investments," he says. Based on what these experts have told me, though, I'd caution against waiting too long.