Managing mobility

Reining in mobile devices through a comprehensive mobile management strategy

Ah, it's good to be back from the holidays, showing off the latest gadgets you received as gifts from your family. That new Apple iPod, for example, will be great for storing files, especially because your company won't allow you to take home your laptop for some silly security reason. No one will ever guess all the stuff you need is around your neck, stored in a little silver Mini.

Multiply that scenario by the number of devices available -- cell phones, handhelds, and lesser MP3 players -- times the number of workers storing and accessing proprietary company information "in the wild," as Philippe Winthrop, research director for wireless and mobility at Aberdeen Group, puts it in his report "Enterprise Mobile Adoption: A Corporate Conundrum," and you will quickly understand the need to rein in mobile devices through a comprehensive mobile management strategy.

It should be noted that the Aberdeen study was sponsored by four companies in the mobile industry: Sprint, Mobile Armor, Integrated Mobile, and HTC. One hundred and fifty enterprises were surveyed.

Security is not the No. 1 reason companies have hesitated in deploying mobile devices. According to the study, 72 percent of those who have no plans to adopt a mobile strategy cited an unproven business case for mobility as the reason they were holding off. Cost of services was the second gating factor, at 44 percent; security third, at 40 percent.

Among those who are deploying a mobile strategy, however, security is at the top of the list of concerns. The problem is that you can't really have a good security policy for mobile unless it is part of your overall strategy, Winthrop says.

"There is a technology component, a legal component, and a human-factor component, and all three have their own shares of risk," Winthrop warns. Of course, it's a lot easier to manage mobile devices and policies if the gateway to adoption is the organization, and not devices that came directly from beneath the Christmas tree to the office desktop. After all, as Winthrop says, you can't manage what you can't see.

I also spoke with Jay Highley, president and CEO of Integrated Mobile, a professional services outfit that offers managed services for mobile devices, about this problem. According to Highley, most organizations don't even know how many mobile devices they have, what they pay, and the true cost of supporting them. Highley says companies must define a mobile-device policy and create a unified enterprise database across a multicarrier environment that might even include that iPod. The policy should require employees to register their devices, and the database should include fields such as the rev level of the device and the cost center to which it belongs.

My solution might go against the grain of everything an MBA has ever learned about how to run a business, but I think new times require new ideas. For me, the secret to managing mobility -- from understanding the cost structure, to tracking the ROI, to offering help-desk support -- is to create a single point of contact. You can do this by using a managed service such as Integrated Mobile, or you can create your own department of mobility that does it all.

The advantage of the latter is that your point of contact is within the company and knows the company inside and out. That knowledge can be leveraged easily when it comes time to integrate mobility on both a strategic and operational level.

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