Oct 23

The 3 variants of Mobile Enterprise Management (MEM) need careful examination

Constellation recently published my “MoDM, MADM and MEM: What Should You Expect for Managing Mobile Devices” Report. Since publication I have been researching the 40+ vendors that offer products in the management of mobile devices space for a follow up Report (due 4Q 2011) that will look at which vendors/products fall into each category. In this research it is becoming ever clearer (thus far) that there are three sub-categories within MEM:

  • those (MoDM) vendors trying to add enterprise functionality to what were originally solutions specifically oriented to mobile-phone management (rather than mobile device management)
  • those vendors coming from serving IT, with more of a systems management background; these are mostly seeking to extend their products to embrace whole new categories of device
  • a small number of vendors that started with a ‘green field’, open mindset as to what is important when managing mobile devices.

Each of these possesses very different characteristics. There are advantages and disadvantages to each:

  •  those with the mobile phone background are often more friendly in approach but lack the understanding or familiarity to integrate readily with existing enterprise IT infrastructure and systems management (which are usually highly sophisticated as well as ‘control’ oriented)
  • the systems management-derived solutions, in contrast, integrate well into IT but have the disadvantage that their approach to management tends to be rigid — being more accustomed to control of the infrastructure and systems rather than handling the openness that mobile devices thus far generate
  • those vendors that have started from a ‘green field’; these possess the advantage that they are not constrained in the same way as either of the previous two but equally they have more to prove as potential solutions.

Beyond these primary characteristics there is an additional consideration that is not yet well understood about mobile devices. This concerns how they are bought and then how they are used.

In traditional IT, for example, the enterprise bought desktops and laptops for its employees. It could, and does, reasonably demand that these machines operate according to what enterprise policies and constraints have been put in place. For example, some years ago, Novartis informed a large number of its research community that some 30% of the CPU cycles on their desktops were to be focused on corporate research; using Grid techniques to share the CPU load, Novartis effectively created a supercomputer from itsexisting investment in desktops — by repurposing those 30% of CPU cycles.

Mobile devices are not necessarily following the same path of permitting such clean or absolute device control. A primary reason why is the emergence of BYOD (Buy, or Bring, Your Own Device) where the owner is no longer the enterprise but the employee who then ‘permits’ the enterprise to exploit the functionality of the tablet or smartphone (or whatever) he or she has bought for the enterprise’s gain. The control equation changes as soon as the owner is not the enterprise.

A related issue is that mobile devices are being used in multi-purpose ways that far exceed how PCs (even laptops) were or are used. Being able to be mobile (whether at a desk or in a restaurant or car or …) and check email, watch a training video or the news, listen to music, coordinate domestic and enterprise calendars, make telephone calls (business and personal), hold personal data, browse the web, research corporate (and non-corporate) data, navigate, read newspapers/books, etc. are routinely how owners exploit their new devices every day – and, no doubt, additional uses will emerge. In contrast, the separation of personal (home) and business (work) PCs/laptops has tended to be distinct and the different types of usage are kept separate (thereby missing some of the ‘joined-up’ capabilities deliverable by smart devices).

Enterprises considering purchasing (i.e. owning) smart devices (like smartphones and tablets) can try to control these (they have the perfect right to do so). Yet this approach has its weaknesses. What happens if the corporately selected device is ‘not smart enough’ (in any sense) or is ‘overly locked down’? Will that mean the investment in the device is not used? This is a very real possibility – unless the enterprise ensures that the value to the employee is so great that it is not resisted. In any case, there when there is a ‘lock down’ there is a distinct risk that employees will start to do what the enterprise owner do not want to happen, like installing their own user-selected apps. While these are ‘removable’ by selected MEM solutions, is this a practical way forwards? I would argue not.

One of the key vendor differentiators emerging from Constellation Research’s research about MEM solutions is that how well, or badly, the ‘employee-shaped’ device is enabled by the enterprise matters. Clear, yet practical, separation of personal apps+data and enterprise apps+data is a requirement that must be considered and then delivered in detail. To fail to do so runs the risk that enterprises will unnecessarily expose their systems, data and infrastructure to unacceptable (even illegal) consequences and/or irritate their employees.

Another differentiator is that there is no perceived value in ‘managing mobile devices’ as an additional function. Managing mobiles within the enterprise should be a ntural extension of what exists, or is readly integreated with what exists.

Choosing and delivering MEM requires a delicate balance.

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