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Having dealt with enterprise mobile products and services now for several years, I have found a real change in how the function is managed. However with the widespread adoption of mobile applications (particularly applications beyond “email”) the need for a good management approach to mobility is growing at an alarming rate, while most organizations attempt to get by with ad hoc committees that do little more than stick a finger in the dike. This situation presents challenges both within the organization and for vendors and solutions integrators who need to sell into this environment.
Surprisingly, the first challenge is to define what falls under the general heading of “mobility.” For most organizations, there are two separate technologies that represent the bulk of the mobility investment, cellular services and Wi-Fi. I have long advised clients that unless they start looking at these as two different ways of doing essentially the same thing (i.e. allowing users to be accessible and productive while away from their desks), they are starting the mobility race with one foot in a bucket.
Unfortunately, most organizations don’t take that first obvious step and Wi-Fi is buried somewhere in “infrastructure” as an extension of the wired LAN, while cellular is managed “somewhere else.” The precise location of “somewhere else” is becoming increasingly difficult to pin down. Five years ago it was easy, it was some guy (or gal) in purchasing. In those days, cellular voice was for the most part, a “fungible good,” which is to say, non-differentiable. Sure there were some differences as to which carrier had better coverage in certain areas, but we simply switched those users to the most appropriate carrier and after that it was all about “cents-per-minute” and negotiating the best contract and terms – in short, purchasing.
Things didn’t change much with the introduction of BlackBerry email. All the carriers offered BlackBerries so once the higher-ups defined the policy as to who was entitled to a BlackBerry rather than a basic voice-only handset (which in some organizations seemed to be “anyone with a pulse”), the IT guys set up their email and away we went. Of course if the organization also invested in a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) that provided the ability to enforce hundreds of management and security policies (some of which were very useful while others were just ways for IT to make their users’ lives miserable), we could now wring any additional fun out of the BlackBerry experience and create an enormous marketing opportunity for Apple and the various Android implementations that followed.
Those of us who were on the front lines of mobility saw immediately that our world changed in June 2007 when Apple announced the iPhone. Even though Messrs Lazaridis and Balsillie at BlackBerry chose to ignore the obvious (come on, not even that “Laurel and Hardy” team could be so dense that they couldn't see the iPhone had their products beat hands down), very soon executives and managers were marching into the IT department to get their work emails set up on their new iPhones.
Of course, the initial iPhone models lacked key enterprise security features like on-device encryption and security-sensitive firms in regulated fields correctly banned their use, but less security conscious users (or IT departments who were cowed by the CEO telling them to get his email onto his iPhone now!) opened the doors to iPhones. The situation improved markedly in June 2010 with the release of iOS 4.0 that gave us encryption, mobile device management, and other security features that addressed the requirements of all but the most security-sensitive firms and the floodgates really opened.
Android trailed Apple on the security front, and didn’t deliver a smartphone version of the operating system with those essential enterprise security capabilities until 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) that was released in October 2011. Those features had actually been added in version 3.0 (Honeycomb), but that release was for tablets only. Microsoft has now caught up by including those same features in Windows Phone 8.
In the meantime, the smartphone had evolved from a “voice-email-text” device to a full functioning mobile computer with apps, geo-location capabilities, accelerometers, proximity sensors, and all of the other cool things that enhance the mobile experience today. That also means these nifty mobile devices that store gigabytes of sensitive corporate data and can be lost, stolen, infected with malware, or fall victim to any number of security vulnerabilities. Also, that software needs to be updated regularly, the data needs to be backed up, and we need a way to wipe them clean when the user leaves the company or simply upgrades to a newer model.
So the nature of “mobile management” has changed fundamentally with this new generation of mobile devices, and with BYOD the “purchasing aspects” have faded into the background. What we have in their place is a mobile management environment that will be heavily IT centric, yet we don’t necessarily see IT stepping up to the plate.
Developing mobility policies and selecting the MDM systems and other elements needed to mange and secure these devices has become a key task for IT departments, however it is all too often seen as a “temporary assignment.” The CIO whips together an inter-disciplinary team with representatives from security compliance, network operations, help desk, applications development (and hopefully some business unit representatives, but that doesn’t always happen); they study the problem, maybe hire a consultant (like me), investigate the options, develop a plan, and codify it in a policy – then they all go back to their “day jobs.”
Let me say categorically – that’s the wrong approach! Mobility is a big initiative, and one of the most important (if not the most important) initiatives in IT, and it impacts a technology area that is changing and developing faster than anything else in our field. A “fire and forget” solution is not going to do the job here.
Two of the most important questions I ask clients when we set out to develop a mobility plan and policy: who is going to be in charge of the policy, and how often are you going to review it? Those questions are usually answered with blank stares, and we then begin talking about how our industry has changed over time, how it continues to change, and the absolute need to adjust our plans for security, user responsibilities, and ongoing support based on that. So while mobility remains a very important initiative, it still sits somewhere “between the boxes” on the organizational chart.
So what should organizations be looking for in a mobility manager – or whatever we choose to call them?
The key idea to remember is that we are still in the very early stages of development for “enterprise mobility” as a career field, but the overall impact can be great. Further, it will be critically important for vendors and solutions integrators to identify that person and to understand the requirements and issues that drive their decisions. In the near term the focus is still on issues like ensuring management and security on user-owned devices, but it is critical that we see beyond that. The nature of work is changing and effective use of mobile technologies will be a key element in that transition. The real goal is not “making users happy by allowing them to use the mobile device of their choice.” The real question we should be asking is, “How can our organization use these new mobile technologies to change the way we do business and best improve the performance of our various business processes?”
That’s a lot more interesting question to be working on.
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