Mobile Device Management Lacks Definition

Several interrelated trends including the increasing popularity of telework, the explosive rise of highly functional smartphones and tablets, and the consumerization of IT/bring your own device (BYOD) have made the old definition of mobile device management (MDM) essentially meaningless.

To make matters worse, there seems to be little agreement on what the new definition is. The base level, the “old” MDM, is pretty well established. Charles Brett, vice president and principal analyst for Constellation Research, breaks MDM into three categories: mobile device management (MoDM), mobile apps and data management (MADM), and mobile enterprise management (MEM).

The first category, Brett said, covers what formerly was the lion’s share of MDM: The ability to remotely switch off, wipe and perform fairly rudimentary device management tasks remotely. In Constellation’s view, the next step up, MADM, looks at the interrelationship between the mobile device and the applications that are downloaded and used. The upper third of the pyramid is MEM. This incorporates BYOD issues such as protecting corporate and personal data loaded into the same smartphone or tablet.

A mercurial sector

Following the category is not easy. Constellation, for instance, follows a mix of vendors that familiar and unknown to all but the closest observers. A recent report from the firm identified Airwatch, Amtelnet, BoxTone, Capricode, Equinux, FancyFon, Fiberlink, Good Technology, Kaseya, Mobile Active Defense, Nukona, SAP/Afaria, SOTI, Tangoe and Trellia. But this is only a start. “We are tracking between 40 and 60 different vendors in this space,” said Brett. “Half are in the first or are moving up to the second. We’ve seen something like 10 or 12 who now really fall into the MEM category.”

various cell phones

The challenge is that there seem to be as many approaches as there are players. 

For instance, MDM vendor Tangoe agrees that MDM is highly fragmented. However, they see the shards differently. Custie Crampton, the company’s vice president of MDM Solutions, said the MDM hierarchy is divided into five categories: security, application management, telecom expense management (TEM), content management, and BYOD.

Yet another player, MobileIron holds the view that the three categories are basic security, automation (enabling users to self-serve and thus take pressure off IT), and application development and management. “We believe you have to have a strong tie — MDM, mobile device security and application management into the same platform,” said Product Manager Sean Ginevan.

John Herrema, the senior vice president of Corporate Strategy for Good Technology, makes the case that, in essence, all roads to MDM go through BYOD. The company’s rationale is pretty simple: BYOD is the wave of the future, and being able to adequately secure and support both personal and mobile devices without causing problems for either is such a difficult task that more mundane elements of MDM such as managing devices and making sure applications aren’t loaded with malware will be fairly easy.

The game changer is networks are no longer closed down and buttoned up, so that changes the nature of MDM. “When you are using the BYOD model, the old rules of management don’t apply,” Herrema said.

Another challenge

Defining MDM from a functional and message standpoint is the main issue facing the sector but not the only one. Another challenge vendors need to deal with is tracking who within the organization is in control.

In the earlier stages of mobility, the responsibility for determining how mobile devices were managed was handled by the business units. Security wasn’t as huge a problem as it is today, and departments from HR to accounting and marketing needed to make sure that mobile devices had the functionality for the tasks at hand. The deep enfranchisement of mobility and the far greater value of the data, application and access rights connected with it are leading IT to demand more control.

To manage this situation most effectively, a structure that relies on the IT department at the device management and security level and line of business personnel at the application layer likely will emerge. “That would be the typical break point,” Crampton said. “IT would handle the core functions and the business units would handle things from the functional perspective.”

Since it is unlikely that the definition of MDM will be settled any time soon, there are two things to watch for: On one hand, the category is ripe for M&As, close confederations between vendors and other landscape shifters. On the other hand, the accepted definition of MDM likely will cover all the important elements of mobility. The now discreet tasks that must be performed in order to support mobile workers will become elements of an integrated MDM stack.

Carl Weinschenk is a freelance writer and the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. His work appears frequently at IT Business Edge and other QuinStreet sites.


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