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1/3/2012
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Should Small Businesses Centrally Manage iOS Devices?

It can seem expensive at first to put your devices under the control of a management system, but at some point it's necessary.

The way iOS devices are handled in the workplace is becoming an echo of the way PCs themselves are handled, as companies determine how, when, and how much management of iOS devices they should attempt.

Apple makes its Mobile Device Management (MDM) interface available to vendors to support iOS management. The challenge for small businesses is determining if the management is necessary, and whether it should be managed centrally through policy and practices or through automated methods based upon MDM.

Here are five critical areas--security, compatibility, compliance, training, and operations--you should consider when deciding whether your small business will centrally manage iOS devices.

1) Security. If your small business requires storing quite a bit of information on iOS devices, or the devices store credentials to sensitive information, consider centralized management sooner rather than later. Besides storage and access of sensitive data, other security concerns include inappropriate use of the devices that might reflect poorly on the business, using unsecured and untrusted Wi-Fi networks, and other activities that might inadvertently bring risk to your small business.

2) Compatibility. For enterprises that have developed their own applications for deployment, compatibility with particular iOS versions will be key. For small businesses, this is not as great of a concern--at least, not yet. However, as the technology matures, small businesses will find themselves having chosen, integrated and "meshed" various vendors' products together. Future versions of these products might not be compatible with each other. Maintaining this compatibility will become a concern over time and is itself an argument for central management.

3) Compliance. Small businesses find themselves providing services to governments and regulated industries subject to compliance requirements and state and federal regulations concerning personal data requirements. Although much of the technology to address these concerns is provided by a strong security posture, compliance requires specific agreements by small business to practice particular activities. For example, technology consultants often find themselves required to use two-factor authentication with one-time passwords to access their customer networks. If there are many compliance practices required, the small business owner might have no other choice than to manage devices used to access their customers' networks and systems.

4) Training. With the large number of applications available to perform many tasks used by businesses of all sizes, the use of devices and applications can become quite complex. Employees' technology skills can vary drastically and might not even be critical for their general job requirements, but important for certain tasks. Small businesses often turn to training and education providers. Training and education in itself often will push for more standardization. For example, a real estate company might need to standardize on a camera application that supports a particular size of photo so that users shoot and upload pictures of the correct dimensions.

5) Operations. The daily operations of using devices can be a major undertaking for small businesses. As the number of devices increases, decentralized management becomes complex. Users often try to match each others' settings (often trying to keep up with their tech-savvy friend's latest recommendations), and can easily botch it in the process. Central management often makes sense for small businesses once the number of devices reaches into the dozens, especially when it's combined with security, compatibility, compliance, and training issues.

In the end it's up to you, the small business owner. After reviewing the business requirements for security, compatibility, compliance, training, and operations, which makes more sense: Centrally managing iOS devices--or letting users decide?

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