Mobility

10 things you should know about supporting mobile devices

The explosion of mobile device usage in business has led to some tricky and unexpected support challenges. Brien Posey lists some of the concerns IT pros should be aware of.

Mobile devices have been around in one form or another for many years, but only recently have they gained mainstream acceptance in enterprise environments. For IT pros, it's important to understand the unique challenges associated with managing these devices. In this article, I will give you 10 things to think about.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Remember the importance of device consistency

It is usually impossible to issue each user exactly the same type of mobile device. Even if every user starts off with the same device, manufacturers phase out device models quickly and you may find that the devices that you initially purchased are no longer available when you need to buy a few more.

In spite of this, you should try to limit the number of models used in your organization. The greater the variety of devices being used, the more difficult it will be for your helpdesk to provide adequate support for the devices.

2: Use fully provisionable devices

Microsoft offers a few server products (Exchange Server 2007, Exchange Server 2010, and System Center Mobile Device Manager) that can apply various security policies to mobile devices. But because there's no universal standard for mobile devices, those server products can manage only certain mobile operating systems. Since only fully provisionable devices can be completely managed, I recommend that you stick to using just those devices.

3: Make sure that users are aware of mobile device policies

There is a lot of potential for abuse when it comes to mobile devices. For instance, I recently heard of a woman using her company-issued mobile device to call her sister in Korea. I can only imagine the resulting phone bill. Unless you want to risk astronomical wireless bills, you must create an acceptable use policy for company issued mobile devices.

4: Take security seriously

Since mobile devices were first introduced, many IT professionals have ignored mobile device security issues. In a way, I can see why. Until recently, mobile devices lacked the software and the processing power to be much of a threat. Today though, mobile devices can run a rich set of applications and can store several gigabytes of data internally. As a result, it is essential that you take mobile device security seriously.

5: Decide whether to allow personal devices

If it hasn't happened already, it's only a matter of time before an employee asks you to set up his or her iPhone to receive corporate email. Make sure you create a policy regarding whether you will allow personal mobile devices to interact with corporate resources. My advice is that you should only allow the use of company issued devices, because your organization lacks the authority to properly secure and regulate devices it doesn't own.

6: Decide up front what to do about roaming

Last week, I took some much needed time off and went to Europe on vacation. Before I got on the plane, I shut off the radios on my Windows Mobile device. I didn't really give the device a second thought until several days later, when I saw someone walking around using a device that was exactly like mine. It occurred to me that had I forgotten to turn off the radios on my device, I could have been accruing some hefty data charges even though I wasn't actually using it.

This situation illustrates why it is so important to decide whether to allow users to send and receive data while roaming. Some users' job functions may be critical enough to warrant data usage regardless of whether they are roaming. But for other users, it may be better to prevent data usage while roaming. In either case though, roaming charges are not something you should leave to chance.

7: Plan to deal with lost devices

Many organizations forget to plan for how to deal with lost or stolen devices. Granted, Exchange Server and System Center Mobile Device Manager both have a built-in self-destruct sequence you can use to remotely wipe a lost or stolen device and return it to its factory defaults. But that's not what I'm talking about.

I once worked for an organization in which certain key staff members were issued cell phones. One woman was constantly losing hers. I'm honestly not sure how many phones she went through, but I would conservatively estimate that she went through at least eight phones over the course of a year. I like to think that this woman was just forgetful, but she could have been selling the phones on eBay for all I know. Obviously, this type of irresponsibility can become expensive. It probably isn't a big deal if an employee loses a mobile device, but you need to have a policy in place to prevent reoccurring loss.

8: Stay on top of malware threats

Historically, malware hasn't been a major issue for mobile devices. In recent months, though, incidents of malware have been reported on several mobile platforms. Make sure you look into the anti-malware solutions that are available for your chosen mobile platform. Malware may not be a major threat today, but it will probably be of major concern a year from now.

9: Periodically measure the impact of mobile devices on your network

Because mobile devices don't physically connect to your network, it can be easy to forget that they do consume bandwidth and other network resources. As more and more users begin to use mobile devices, it becomes increasingly important to periodically check to see how much impact the mobile devices are having on your Internet bandwidth and on network server resources.

10: Make sure that the IT staff is trained for mobile device support

I once worked for an organization whose helpdesk staffers were simply thrown to the wolves. The management team would buy new hardware and software without even telling the helpdesk about it, much less train them on how to use it. The helpdesk staff usually wouldn't even know that a piece of hardware had been purchased until they were asked to fix it. Not surprisingly, this approach to IT management ultimately proved to be disastrous. Most of the helpdesk staff quit, and the entire management team was eventually fired.

Anyone with a lick of common sense knows that this is no way to run an organization, yet this is exactly the approach I sometimes see organizations taking with mobile devices. Mobile devices have become so commonplace that IT managers may assume that the helpdesk staff knows how to support them. This is a dangerous assumption. You must ensure that the helpdesk employees are properly trained for mobile device support just as they would be trained to support anything else.


About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

28 comments
aricbandy
aricbandy

I have to disagree with denying personal devices. For the small to mid-sized business, allowing personal devices greatly offsets the capital expenditure of buying everyone phones. Additionally, users won't need to carry two devices (personal & work). With a good policy and controls you can effectively manage the devices as though they were company owned. It's really the best of both worlds! I recently wrote a blog post on this very matter: http://agostoinc.squarespace.com/general/2010/9/27/managing-a-mobile-workforce.html - Aric Bandy Agosto, Inc.

PalaDolphin
PalaDolphin

Re: #2. Define "provisionable", please. Even Google doesn't know what you're referring to. Other than that, this is an extremely informative article.

mjacquet
mjacquet

If you have employees working abroad for long periods and phoning a lot locally, consider providing them with subscriptions to a local operator in order ro avoid roaming fees.

wanharris
wanharris

It's interesting to know that POLICY is one of the most vital factor that must have for any organisations. With respect to Enterprise 2.0, the most important factor for me would be the ability to handle data that belongs to an organisation. You mentioned some valuable solution in coping with lost mobile device and ability to wipe out the content remotely from the server. Do you think MS-Exchange 2010 has this feature pre-built? or does it come only in Enterprise version?

pgit
pgit

I am getting requests to support mobile devices these days. They are across the entire spectrum of devices out there. Without some concentrated source of learning it's near impossible to know enough to be competent. Someone told me to simply go out and buy a device to become familiar with it. Right. And I'll buy a house in every country on the planet in order to become proficient in their languages. :\

The Lock
The Lock

During our last contract we introduced a small charge if employees lost or damaged their issued phone that we would increase to a nominal charge if they persistently did it. Let's just say that we never had to increase it because no-one ever did - it had a dramatic reduction on the number of lost and damaged phones. Although you will receive some resistance even adding the smallest of charges will still have a dramatic effect. Employees are happy to treat a company phone like rubbish until they know it may cost them ?20.

tdh2112
tdh2112

Due to the dynamics of my company, I do not get issued a mobile device. I do, however, have to support them. Currently, we use Blackberry devices, which I struggle to support since I have never used one. I personally have an Android phone, which our company will be moving to within the next six months or so. Therefore, I have set up my phone to work with company resources so that I know how to support them when the switch happens. I am an ethical person, so if our company instituted a policy to not allow personal devices, I would remove the settings on my phone that allow me to use company resources. If you are creating a policy to prevent personal devices, make sure you leave provisions for support folks to do their job.

zca
zca

Jeez Guys, Is this an English class or an I.T. forum?

nick
nick

It staff are plural therefore it is "are" not "is"

rossouwap
rossouwap

With no mention of Blackberry solutions, I get the feeling this is a little bit of marketing for the upcoming Windows Phone 7 and the management tools around it. Our company has just rolled out fully configurable Blackberry solutions for some of our clients (at their request). It's amazing how quick and easy it is to get going - as well as the management options. For a long time we've tried to convince customer to use ActivSync and Windows Mobile devices - it's hard to push when all the serious device management is happening with BES (even the express version).

michael.smith
michael.smith

If a someone uses their company issued mobile to call a friend or relative? The fact that your being made accessible out side of normal working hours and generally expected to repsonded to work related emails and calls out side of normal business hours is more than enough reason for employees to be able to use company phones for reasonable personal use. Company work phones are a poisoned chalice, there needs to be benefits for both parties.

Juanita Marquez
Juanita Marquez

Each device generally has their own home page, and each device also has their assorted fanboys that support or just love them. Manuals are a good start, from the device pages. Twitter has groups you can follow as well as the carriers to make sure an outage is really an outage as well as little bizarre fixes. Or as I've been told by more than one person, regarding BBs anyway, take out the battery - that fixes 80% of most problems anyhow. TR is also rich in geeks who are happy to answer questions for the coveted thumbs-up.

BTrik
BTrik

That's a good point. I am in the same boat. Sometimes it's difficult to support something you don't use yourself. . .

lriss
lriss

Trying to control the mobile phone environment is fruitless. The benefit to the company and individual is worth allowing flexibility. We long ago determined that a monthly stipend is the answer. Pay the employee who is required to be online a stipend, but let them pick their service and phone. Let them call Korea if they want. The contract is between them and their carrier. IT must be flexible to assist employees in making appropriate connections, whether it be an iphone, android, or whatever. At the end of the day, the connections are similar and can be figured out. After all, we are IT pros!

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

both an English and IT class? Surely, we in IT need to have the best communication.

mf001
mf001

Staff is a singular noun - for example, the General Staff is the name given to the body of servicemen who run the Services. So 'is' is in fact correct.

seanferd
seanferd

But RIM certainly does have a full solution.

FormotusGlen
FormotusGlen

Email access is one thing, direct connection to corporate data systems is another. Suppose you didn't need to worry about what kind of device an employee was using or who owned it. Instead you could simply push to any employee exactly the data-connected apps needed by that employee. The apps would work the same on all the popular phones - iPhone, WinMo, Android, BlackBerry. Each employee would be have these these custom, special-purpose apps available on any phone he used. If his role changes, change the apps deployed to him. If he leaves the company or loses the phone, you can just disable all the apps instantly. How many problems would this solve in your company? Formotus is working on it: http://www.formotus.com

DJTech64
DJTech64

How do you determine "reasonable personal use" for a company-owned device? Is it $10 worth of calls? If so, do you maintain that same standard for all levels of users in your organization? Allowing personal use on a company-owned device is a slippery slope.

seanferd
seanferd

Calling Korea? A lot of the new mobile adopters are doing so because of employee demand, anyway. Not because they are forcing the devices on users.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Calling home to Hammersmith to ask your wife if she needs something from the grocer is one thing. Calling your sister in Korea is quite another. The two are quite different.

BTrik
BTrik

I agree completely - we in IT DO need to have the best communication. . .However, do we? Ever call tech support and end up talking to a representative located on the other side of the world who can barely speak english?

marc
marc

With the advent of pooled minute plans and unlimited usage plans which are available of nearly all carriers there should be no surprises for domestic calling. I have managed pools with an average per phone cost as low at $20 and as high as $90 (with lots of smartphones) but rarely have a bill deviate outside of a couple percent of the normal total. As long as employees are properly trained for international use and understand polices around it you can easily keep phone cost in line with a properly configured corporate account. For my management team the discussion us really simple, is it worth $20 to $90 to have the mutual convenience of a cell phone? And the secondary question is weather or not the total cell spend is worthwhile for the company. There is rarely an argument over the thousands we spend to have employees tether to their work 24/7/365. (The reality of expectations of employees at most companies with a phone.)

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

Simply stating that the large corporations who farm their support overseas, to people who cannot communicate in English, doesn't lessen the issue. If *I* want to communicate with my clients, and even some Dell support tech in Mumbai, I want to be able to do it with excellence. The better that I communicate with people, the better I get across my message, and therefore, I generally have a better experience. Also, when it comes to communicating with clients, it helps greatly, if I communicate in terms that they understand, with as little techno-jargon as possible. It just helps them understand, and an educated user, is a good user.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Somebody has a [u]very[/u] generous benefits plan. :p

markalger
markalger

They get a day off every four years.