Businesses Need Mobile Device Management

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Mobile operators are struggling to to cope with oversubscribed spectrums, forcing enterprises to resort to mobile management services, says Andrew Garcia

As smartphone adoption continues to increase, mobile operators are struggling—and will continue to struggle—to provide adequate levels of service, as spectrum is oversubscribed or cell-site backhaul gets saturated. So enterprises need to arm themselves with the right information to determine when their client base is adversely affected and their employee productivity is limited by this congestion.

Those of us who work in downtown San Francisco know all too well that AT&T’s service on a weekday is commonly horrendous for both data and voice. We’ve heard this complaint from iPhone customers (including myself, until recently) for well over a year now, and AT&T has acknowledged that it has a lot of work still to do in markets like San Francisco and New York where smartphone data usage (and iPhone adoption) is uncommonly high.

The fact remains that AT&T’s problems in these areas aren’t confined solely to the iPhone. During last month’s RSA security conference in San Francisco, I had lunch with a friend who complained about the mobile phone service around the Moscone Center. She kept getting messages saying “Emergency Calls Only” on her phone. Her corporate-issue Windows Mobile phone, complete with enterprise service plan and contracts, couldn’t get service in the middle of downtown San Francisco.

Mobile device management enters the mainstream

In 2008, I wrote a story enumerating some of the different types of management IT administrators should have over their mobile device and application ecosystem, citing an up-and-coming area that I referred to as service management. I referred to service management as “paying the least buck for the bang,” tracking smartphone usage to cull out and excise neglected devices or those needing different types of plans (like international plans) to better match actual usage. But over time, service management has begun to morph as well, adding intelligence and reporting to be able to track things like dropped calls or signal levels.

When I wrote that story, service management was a pretty niche offering. Operators provided some reports, and third-party solutions could correlate enterprise device and directory data with usage reports from carriers to identify inefficient usage. But now I’m seeing a number of advanced mobile device management platforms adding service management features, starting with cost and usage analysis.

One of the most interesting tidbits I came across during my somewhat unsuccessful attempt to review Boxtone’s device management suite was a series of service management reports that came with its Asset, Expense and Compliance Management module, which attempted to actively define ROI and costs for smartphone usage (or lack thereof). Inventory reports enumerated last message sent and received, providing insight into when a device was last used.

Low-use and no-use reports organise this data, identifying last contact date and the cost of this inaction based on monthly per-device costs. And Productivity reports identify each user’s volume of messages read and sent during nonbusiness hours, allowing managers to assess and put a dollar value on nonbusiness-hour work done via the mobile platform.

Other MDM vendors are growing their service management to encompass wireless performance in the field, which could help an enterprise build a case with their existing operator about poor network performance. That could lead to cost savings—and might even help build a case to change carriers. For instance, MDM maker Mobile Iron’s Mobile Activity Intelligence tracks wireless network performance, logging and mapping dropped calls, signal strength and discovered network coverage gaps over time across the mobile fleet.

Tracking this kind of data requires additional client-side intelligence. BlackBerry devices already have an ongoing dialogue with an associated BlackBerry Enterprise Server that could help form the basis for these reports (Mobile Iron needs to be paired with a BES), but ActiveSync-connected smartphones typically do not. So a device-side client application to collect and report is needed, and Mobile Iron claims to support Windows Mobile, iPhone, Symbian and WebOS. This indicates that enterprises could extend their service management to any employee-owned devices allowed to connect to corporate resources.

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