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Six Tips For Navigating The MDM Jungle

As mobile device management and mobile application management choices become overwhelming, consider these key issues.

Revenue from mobile enterprise management software is expected to reach $1.8 billion by 2016, according to a recent IDC report. The marketplace expansion comes with good reason: Juniper Research projects that the number of employee-owned smartphones and tablets in the workplace will swell to 350 million devices by 2014, up from an already substantial tally of 150 million, and a RIM study concluded that businesses recognize the challenges this influx will bring, with 84% of polled executives stating employee-liable devices are a significant concern.

Vendors have proliferated to support the burgeoning industry. AT&T, Meraki, AirWatch, RIM, and SAP are just a few of the companies that have made announcements over the last few weeks.

[ Is Apple looking to increasing its enterprise presence? Read Apple iOS 6 'App Lock': Enterprise Ready? ]

With so much movement, enterprise mobility is only growing more challenging. Here are six guiding principles for navigating the jungle of options.

1. It's All About Data

451 Research analyst Chris Morales said in an interview that device management has typically been about configuring, monitoring, and supporting devices. Going forward, though, he says the real issue is managing the apps that employees use to access corporate data.

He's not alone in this sentiment. Forrester's Chenxi Wang remarked in a phone interview that "MDM tech is morphing into a platform … that different technologies can be slotted into." Mike Davis, CEO of Savid Technologies, was explicit about what the "slotting" should prioritize: "The device doesn't matter. Data on the device is what matters." Jeremiah Grossman of WhiteHat Security, meanwhile, offered this: "It all comes down to data. How do you protect [a lost device] and how do you wipe it?"

2. BYOD: More Platforms, More Complexity

Data protection is paramount whether mobile devices are corporate-issued or employee-owned, but each approach involves distinct challenges. BYOD allows enterprises to accommodate employee preference while potentially boosting productivity and cutting hardware investments. Company-owned tools, on the other hand, give IT more control.

"BYOD seems simple… but it's not," wrote Stacy Crook, author of the IDC report, in an email. She cited several potentially challenging decisions, including what kinds of apps should be accessible on an employee-liable phone or tablet, whether to manage the device or just the apps it carries, which vendors to choose, and whether to reimburse employees for the business use of their property.

451 Research's Hazelton, meanwhile, stated that device manufacturers limit what app vendors can accomplish, meaning it can be difficult to define uniform policies in a multi-platform BYOD environment.

Despite limitations, manufacturer control can enhance security. iOS devices have been relatively virus-free thanks to Apple's app-approval standards, for example. Even so, Grossman asserted that mobile malware authors are "in experimentation mode" and that "locked-down systems" won't stop determined attackers. Indeed, a recent Arxan study found that most iOS and Android apps have been hacked, emphasizing the question of whether an employee's personal device might raise too many corporate security challenges. Products that blacklist or whitelist apps represent one workaround--although Wang pointed out that an IT department could irk employees if it tries to overly manage personal devices.

Android and iOS devices are prevalent at the moment, but with new hardware on the horizon, BlackBerry is still a factor. Microsoft, meanwhile, intends to put its mark on the mobile industry when Windows Phone 8 arrives--so the BYOD question is only going to get more convoluted.

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