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Mobile device management implementation options

In this tip, Daniel Taylor discusses the types of options available for managing mobile devices.

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In the first of our two-part series on mobile device management, we talked about the five leading questions behind corporate policies for managing mobile devices. This month, we'll discuss the types of options available for managing mobile devices. There is a growing number of alternatives that facilitate a wide range of policies, and it's important for IT managers to understand the tools that are available to manage mobile devices and the services required to connect them to the corporate network.

We'll discuss device and connectivity management, because the two go hand-in-hand. Managing the network and application performance is as important as managing the device itself. There are five major areas of mobile device management: cellular, asset management, mobile computing, security, and network connectivity.

Since cellular telephony represents one of the biggest management challenges for the mobile enterprise, it stands to reason that management of cellular services is the place to start. Management platforms are available from wireless operators, allowing telecoms managers to specify usage patterns and permissions at both user and group levels. These technologies enable policy enforcement by time of day, number called, and service accessed. Using a cellular management platform, a corporate telecoms department can, for example, allow all calls during business hours but limit calls during nights and weekends to numbers in the corporate directory. These platforms also allow corporate managers to deny user access to restricted sites, content downloads, and other non-business functions.

Smartphones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and handheld computers are costly mobile assets. Tracking these assets is an important management function that can incorporate location-based services (LBS) found in Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Given the fact that one in four users replaces his cellular telephone every 12 months, and the remainder are on an 18- to 24-month cycle, the asset management program should be able to handle frequent changes in user devices.

At a mobile computing level, device management platforms are capable of managing a single device "image" incorporating over the air (OTA) updating, antivirus "push," and other software management capabilities. One of the most important factors in managing mobile computing is the fact that users will want to download personal data and software to their devices. For some companies, this is an acceptable use, but for others, it is forbidden; either way, the device management platform can deny access to mobile devices with unsupported software installed on them.

Security is a natural extension of device management, and many of the same features for managing the device "image" also extend to policies for endpoint security. Like laptop computers, it is possible to download antivirus software and other security updates automatically before allowing a mobile device to connect to the corporate network. Device management platforms can also secure mobile devices with password protection, device "locking" after a certain number of failed password attempts, and remote OTA device wipe. This latter function is a necessity, given the frequency with which users lose their mobile handhelds.

At a network level, mobile data roaming and VPN features are increasingly important. Today, mobile data simply does not provide the seamless roaming that users have come to expect from cellular networks. Roaming includes a combination of corporate wireless networks, public Wi-Fi hotspots, and a range of 2.5 and 3G wide-area wireless data networks. By using the cellular SIM and device features (like the MAC address), corporate IT departments can provide workers with seamless roaming. This way, mobile users can focus on the work at hand instead of remembering passwords and learning the intricacies of the various wireless data networks.

This last point of the work at hand is important to remember -- the purpose of mobile device management is to ensure a simple and effective mobile computing experience. Many mobile workers are spending much of their time interacting with customers, so mobile device management should focus on making mobile computing seamless and reliable.

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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