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10 things to consider when choosing an MDM solution

The MDM solution market is getting noisy. Here are 10 considerations to help you find the right mobile device management tools for your BYOD initiative.

Mobile device management (MDM) solutions provide security, reporting, and management for mobile devices that access your network. Unfortunately, it's becoming a crowded "flavor of the month" market, with many vendors, consultants, and analysts putting their own spin on this critical security solution, which is integral to any Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative.

Let's break down some MDM considerations.

1: Corporate vs. mobile user expectations

Even before you get down to the technical requirements, you need to consider corporate expectations for the BYOD initiative versus the reality of your mobile user community. The MDM solution you select needs to support the corporate expectations of the BYOD initiative while supporting its users. While MDM might be a familiar solution for experienced mobile users, BYOD devices and laptops can add a new level of misconceptions and concerns, especially when it comes to corporate data ownership and an employer's security software running on an employee's personal device.

Ratcheting down into corporate versus mobile user expectations requires:

  • Evangelism about MDM, its role in enterprise mobile security, and the benefits it offers mobile users in the enterprise.
  • Policies governing MDM within the enterprise and on the BYOD device.
  • MDM as a major topic in any BYOD training that takes place.
  • Ongoing management of MDM reporting and feature implementation, with feedback from stakeholders and end users about how the MDM is performing.

These expectations need to feed into your MDM requirements and the solution's ongoing management and will ensure that MDM is a help not a hindrance for users, while delivering the business results to the organization.

2: Trial period

A trial period for an MDM solution is an absolute must. Even if your enterprise is relatively comfortable managing remote access, I still advocate a trial period for an MDM solution since BYOD can change. The trial period is the time to test out the technical implementation, but it's also a smart time to test the solution on some pilot participants' mobile devices and personal laptop PCs. The trial period allows you to build a group of internal champions for the BYOD initiative and will help erase some of the misconceptions over what happens when the iPad an employee got for Christmas connects to an MDM solution to access corporate email and documents.

3: Device support

When embarking on a BYOD initiative, device support is best started as a requirements-gathering exercise because you can potentially have multiple phone, tablet, and PC operating systems to consider supporting. A typical BYOD misconception is that it's a hardware platform and operating system free-for-all -- but that doesn't make business sense. So it is important to decide up front in your BYOD planning what devices you are going to support in your enterprise and then use that as a requirement for what devices your MDM solution needs to support.

4: Security management

MDM security management governs standard device security, such as passwords, encryption, and authentication. You can let your in-place security standards drive your MDM search at first. This feature plays a role in onboarding devices when users first enter your BYOD program. It also cuts off access to your enterprise when a user leaves the company or loses a device.

5: Inventory management

Inventory management remains, even under BYOD, because it controls the basic provisioning and support of mobile devices that are allowed inside your enterprise. It provides a view into what mobile apps are in use on your corporate network even on BYOD devices.

6: Software distribution

Even with BYOD devices, software distribution delivers operating system patches, antivirus updates, and any standard corporate apps from the MDM platform to the mobile devices. Pay attention to the management and reporting features under software distribution, especially if you have to meet any IT compliance programs and/or want to segregate reporting for BYOD from corporate-owned devices.

7: Service management

When you tread in BYOD, one of the biggest end-user (and probably CFO) questions is who is going to pay for talk minutes and data on BYOD smartphones and tablets. The service management features, backed up by a written policy about reimbursements, provide end users and corporate management with the tools for budgeting and auditing these expenses to users with BYOD devices.

8: Policy management

Policy management governs what level of access BYOD mobile devices are going to have for your internal enterprise resources, such as SharePoint team sites, financial applications, and basically any corporate secrets that reside within your enterprise.

9: Level of reporting

Reporting can be critical to the success of a new BYOD program, especially if it is high profile with the CxO eyes all over it. I break out the level of reporting as its own consideration for the following reasons:

  • Executive management may want a view into BYOD device interactions with corporate enterprise resources.
  • Security and IT reporting requirements may change over time, so flexible reporting tools are essential.
  • Compliance auditors may require specific documentation.

There might be some overreaching in reporting during the early stages of a BYOD initiative, but you can always dial it back during the trial period or when your BYOD initiative is in full production.

10: Hosted vs. onsite

One development that is important for large enterprise and small to midsize businesses to follow is the rise of hosted MDM solutions versus implementing an MDM platform onsite. Going the hosted MDM route offers you the following:

  • Access to mobile security talent that might be out of reach due to your budget, company size, or local job market conditions.
  • On-demand subscription-based pricing you can adjust as your BYOD initiative expands or contracts in users.
  • The ability to focus on your core business rather than on mobile security.

You can start with a hosted MDM and then migrate to an in-house MDM solution at a later date, depending on your organization's requirements.

Conclusion

Don't let an analyst or an outside consultant drive your MDM considerations, because it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. It's about breaking down the typical features, determining your organization's requirements for each one, and then taking potential MDM solutions through a trial period to ensure they can offer the appropriate level of management support to your BYOD initiative.

More resources

For a comprehensive look at BYOD strategies, benefits, and challenges, check out ZDNet's latest feature page, BYOD and the Consumerization of IT. If you're evaluating MDM solutions, be sure to see our key vendor listings, broken down by region:

About

Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management ap...

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