Thursday, August 09, 2012

MDM is Not Dead - Ask the Right Questions

In my former career as the CEO of a mobile application company, I remember my professional services team coming into my office one day and asking me to buy licenses of an MDM (mobile device management) solution from a vendor called Soti. My team wanted to be able to troubleshoot new mobile applications on a large variety of different mobile devices.  They wanted remote access to both the device and the apps so they could understand bugs and issues that were reported from the field.  This is still a very useful feature.

Today, however, few of the MDM/MAM vendors adequately support this feature.  In my experience, the ability to have remote access and remote control of a mobile device is very useful.  I recently interviewed a CEO who shared how it had taken several years and many rounds of change management classes to get his field services technicians comfortable and using mobile technology.  In these kinds of work environments, the team deploying the mobile technology is often struggling to understand if reported software bugs are real, a lack of user knowledge, or a mobile device issue.  In these cases it is far easier for the help desk or professional services team to simply take remote control of the device and investigate the issue themselves.

My professional services team found remote access and remote control to be the fastest way to understand and resolve mobile solution issues.  I would strongly recommend that you ensure your MDM/MAM vendor provides this capability, especially if you are working on customized mobile applications.

Another interesting MDM requirement I have seen in many secure and classified work environments involving research, government and military organizations, is the need to control different mobile applications based on the geographic (GPS) location.  For example, when you enter a particular campus your mobile device camera, Bluetooth and audio recording apps are automatically disabled.  When you leave that geo-fenced area, they are again enabled.  This solution combines GPS tracking, geo-fencing and remote device control.

One of my friends, who is an SAP Mentor, shared that her university work site for years would not allow mobile devices to be brought to work because they contained cameras that were not allowed on the secure research site.  That policy evolved to mobile devices needing to have tape over their camera lenses.  Of course, we can all guess how effective that was.

Many of the MDM/MAM vendors today seem only to target today's consumer type smartphones and mobile applications.  However, in many industries with mission critical mobile applications running on ruggedized industrial grade mobile smartphones and handheld computers, there is a need for a much stronger mobile device management solution.

It is interesting to me that many MDM/MAM vendors champion the cause of BYOD (bring your own device) at work but then don't support that environment.  Many of the MDM/MAM vendors still have a very difficult time supporting all Android OS versions and manufacturer's devices.  When you are selecting an MDM vendor, dig deep with your questions in this area.  Find out, in truth, what exact Android devices and OS versions they can support.  It is almost always a limited subset.  Ask if they have the ability to remote access and remote control mobile devices.  If not, that is OK as long as you understand that up front and it fits your needs.  You just don't want to be surprised and disappointed later.

Kevin Benedict, Mobile Industry Analyst, Mobile Strategy Consultant and SAP Mentor Alumnus
Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
Full Disclosure: I am an independent mobility analyst, consultant and blogger. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.