Advice to IT Departments: Miss the MDM Train at Your Own Risk

Carl Weinschenk

Mobile device management (MDM) can essentially be defined as the strategies, tactics, hardware and software aimed at securely and efficiently managing smartphones, tablets and other devices used by mobile workers.

The reality is that MDM is a technology in the right place at the right time. It predates the infatuation with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approaches in which employees use their own gadgets at work. MDM therefore goes from being a nice-to-have technology to perhaps one of the main ways that IT departments can begin to get a handle on their organizations’ potentially chaotic mobile landscapes.

A survey released earlier this month that was sponsored by Azaleos and performed by Osterman Research looks at MDM. The story at eWeek seems to suggest that the companies addressed MDM in a generic sense. In other words, MDM is the overall attempt to control devices, not a specific regime of hardware and software products.

The survey found that more attention is being paid to mobility. The number of IT workers dedicated to MDM services per 1,000 employees has risen and is expected to continue to do so. The number of smartphones in use is rising as well. This is driving a parallel growth in MDM:

Among organizations that have not yet deployed an MDM solution, 32 percent said they would deploy one in 2013 and additional 24 percent plan to deploy one in 2014. The potential for loss of intellectual property was the leading factor for deploying an MDM solution, cited by 34 percent of respondents. Thirty-one percent of organizations switching to a new MDM platform, said they would likely select a cloud-based solution, and 55 percent of those respondents said they would choose a private cloud solution for security reasons.

Ben Gray, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, via a commentary at InformationWeek, offers six suggestions for the companies that are creating MDM platforms. Ideas include utilizing functionality of the platforms being used instead of creating a “monolithic infrastructure” purely for MDM; creating a BYOD program that will be phased in; tiering devices based on applications and security risks; creating an enterprise app store; understanding that the mobile and PC worlds will consolidate; and making the platform user-centric.

The discussion of MDM can become general and high level very quickly. Ken Hess at ZDNet has done yeoman work by listing 10 MDM packages and providing an overview of each. They are from AirWatch, AmTel, Dialogs, Exitor DMA, FancyFon, Fiberlink, IBM, MobileIron, Symantec and Zenprise.

Mobile device management is evolving at the conceptual and technical levels. The trick is for organizations to understand what they need, how lack of an effective way to manage growing BYOD programs could lead to huge problems and to find vendors that will tailor MDM suites to their needs.

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