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Even though the business landscape is inundated with smartphones and tablets, small business IT pros find mobile device management (MDM) a point of confusion. Smartphones, particularly new iPhones and Samsungs, incorporate more robust enterprise mobile management (EMM) features each new generation, while major industry players like IBM and VMware are grappling to get in the business of making phone apps specifically for enterprise use. Much of the tech talk about this relatively new technology—as is the case with most new things of this nature—tends towards the esoteric, and we need help sorting out the jargon and double-talk to get a firmer grasp on the subject.

Jack Madden wrote the book on Enterprise Mobility Management—literally. His book Everything You Need to Know About MDM, MAM, & BYOD decodes this topic in a way that is accessible for non-technical types. HardBoiled asked him about issues SMBs should have a handle on when it comes to managing the place where work life and personal life collide: the mobile phone.

 HardBoiled: The prevailing statistics indicate about half of SMBs have Mobile Device Management plans in place; something less than that number feel that they are effective. What are the obstacles for SMBs trying to deploy MDM?

Jack Madden: Half seems like a big number—I would have thought it was fewer. When I think about this, I’m thinking of businesses that range from 100 to 1000 seats; they’re established enough to where they’ll have legacy apps and file servers, SharePoint, and Microsoft Exchange, but might not have a CIO that’s speaking strategically about their internal IT, so they’re fairly conservative about what they do with it as a result.

If they haven’t thought about MDM by this point, they probably aren’t dealing with strict regulatory compliance, either. They didn’t have those security fears back when iPhones and Androids started flooding the scene a few years ago. So the question is, where’s the pressing need to buy an MDM solution now?

HB: How are MDM services positioning themselves to address SMBs, then?

JM: It’s more about enablement than hardcore security. We’ve all had mobile e-mail on our phone for years. When the iPhone got encryption and real Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync support, it was surprising how many places left sync accessing kind of just wide open. [For SMBs] the number one thing that I hear about, is if somebody leaves the company, they want to wipe the corporate e-mail without having to wipe the entire phone.

HB: Beyond e-mail security, what are other common SMB concerns regarding mobile data security?

JM: The other thing are the files. I can think of a lot of examples how each team has a small Dropbox account that might be shared among a dozen team members. And it’s funny—often with these personal accounts it’s a corporate AMEX that’s paying for them anyway. So that’s where an EMM vendor might come in and say, let’s formalize this process with an enterprise-oriented file sharing product—like, who knows, maybe Dropbox for business or something—and when they do that, they may address antivirus and security issues with passcode features and app-wiping, things like that. Security will come in by default.

HB: There are now more than a dozen major MDM players in the field. How are they differentiating themselves?

JM: Some of these things that vendors differentiate on are probably not things are of immediate concern to an SMB. The consideration should be, what else is this MDM attached to? Is it some random other product that they added in an MDM server to? Is it something that makes sense? Is the MDM a free add-on to another product? Is it a core EMM company that also has a lot of little advanced mobile app themes and phone productivity apps? There are a lot of different routes a company can take—there are network access control vendors and have MDM products, antivirus products that have MDM built in, enterprise sync and share, and so forth.

HB: Would this all be easier if phones ran Windows?

JM: Well, mobile apps are fundamentally different from Windows apps so it wouldn’t necessarily solve all of our problems. There are so many legacy apps that are Windows apps, and our phones don’t run them—but even if they did, the tasks that we want to do on our phone are different. I don’t think it would make that much of a difference.

HB: I see the term “granular” used quite a bit when writing about MDM; what does that mean exactly?

JM: It’s another way of saying that, because we have work stuff and personal stuff on any given device, if we’re just using big, wide-brush tools to lock down a whole device, that’s obviously not going to work anymore. Really it’s a euphemism for anything that targets individual apps and particular data, and not anything else.

HB: What are you most excited about in terms of devices and hardware?

In Apple, we’ve seen a steady march-out of enterprise features that get better and better with each version of iOS. We saw the first MDM with iOS 4, push apps in iO7, data separation policies–we’ve seen everything become more and more enterprise friendly. On the Android side it’s been a bit more fragmented. We’ve seen the Samsung devices with very high standards; other devices, not so much. But I am excited about the Android 5. Android Work—they’re going to be leveling up the enterprise management features. I’m optimistic that things will get easier.

HB: What is your take on the Apple-IBM partnership and what it means for MDM moving forward?

JM: People are excited about the enterprise version of Apple Care, with IBM providing some of the plumbing for that. They’ll be working together to build many enterprise-oriented mobile apps. The inherent implication is that, we live in a live in a multi-OS world, and the field does leave Android users out in the cold, so we’ll see what happens with that.

HB: It probably means there are some cool apps on the horizon for SMBs.

JM: Well, developing mobile apps for SMBs, that’s probably not a lot of [app developers] core competency, and the financial math probably doesn’t add up for [an SMB] to build [their own] internal apps for their own employees. But when Apple and IBM come along, and say, here are all these pre-built development platforms, and backend-as-a-service offerings, it should be bring the costs down and put [app development] within reach for SMBs. That’s exciting for users—instead of doing just e-mails and files on a phone, this will open the doors to a lot more stuff.

HB: How about  VMware buying Air-Watch?

JM: We’ve been following VMWare for a long time. They’ve said various things over the years, but never really were a big force in mobility, so we always wondered what was going on with them in terms of end-user computing. The last 12 months has been such a big change for them—they bought Air-Watch, they introduced a competitor to XenApp, and they’ve become a huge force in end-user computing, so wow, what a turnaround for them.

We’ve talking about the user workspace, this dream of it becoming a portal for getting provisions for mobile versions of apps, web versions apps, and desktop versions of apps, and seamlessly going back and forth between all of them, getting the right app for the right job—that’s a big set of things to put together, but VMware has all the pieces to do it.

HB: That sounds a little like what Microsoft is doing with Windows 10, but that’s a whole other conversation.

JM: [Laughs]. Yes. Yes it is.

Jack Madden hosts seminars on Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Enterprise Mobility, and is a regular contributor to  

Decoding Mobile Device Management for SMBs with Jack Madden
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Decoding Mobile Device Management for SMBs with Jack Madden
Jack Madden wrote the book on Mobile Device Management—literally. Madden helps decode issues concerning mobility for SMBs.
Adam Lovinus

Author Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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