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5/8/2008
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Trouble Ahead: Most Companies Don't Have A Mobile Device Management Plan

With devices taking on important tasks, and more devices coming in to companies, that will be a problem soon.

When it comes to managing the mobile devices used by physicians and staff at her company, LifeLong Medical Care, IT director Betsy Ami chuckles. "There's not really a strategy," she says.

While acknowledging that having no system isn't necessarily the best system, Ami doesn't yet see an urgent need for an overarching policy. The jumble of PDAs and smartphones used by the employees at LifeLong, a group of nonprofit health clinics in the Bay Area, doesn't contain patient medical records, "so there hasn't been an issue of compliance" in tracking them.

What's shocking, though, isn't that one company finds itself in this situation. It's how widespread this laissez-faire approach to managing mobile devices is. Not only have most organizations in InformationWeek's recent survey of 307 business technology managers not adopted mobile device management strategies, most of them--52%--don't even have plans to buy or implement tools that would help them corral proliferating wireless devices.

InformationWeek Reports

IT leaders need to get ahead of this issue. Mobile device management will become a must-have capability for most IT departments over the next few years--and we think it's closer to two than five. As mobile devices and applications take over many of the functions previously carried out on desktop PCs, the ability to secure, track, update, and provision such devices will present a significant competitive advantage in many industries, from financial services to health care to shipping and logistics. As the power and connectivity of mobile devices surge, their numbers will explode. Research firm IDC predicts that sales of converged mobile devices for businesses will reach 63 million units worldwide by 2010, up from 7.3 million in 2005.

Unfortunately, IT directors' ability to manage these devices as corporate assets, while controlling the data and applications that run on them, hasn't kept pace. However, of those that do have a mobile device management plan, 55% plan to increase device management spending in the next 12 months. Driving that spending is concern over security: Password protection, remote-wipe capability, and physical device-tracking are the top three features cited by these companies.

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Those who haven't adopted such products and don't plan to cite three reasons: lack of need, cost, and complexity. MDM vendors apparently have done a poor job educating potential customers about the value and ease of use of their products. That's explained in part by the fragmented nature of the mobile device management market. Products are available from wireless telecom carriers, handset makers, telecom expense management specialists, and security software providers.

Reflecting the dominant position of BlackBerrys among mobile business users, Research In Motion's BlackBerry Enterprise Server is by far the most prevalent mobile device management platform cited in our survey, by 80% of respondents. Its ability to offer device security and management comes because RIM has created essentially a closed universe. A system administrator can manage up to 2,000 BlackBerrys from a single server, with capabilities such as over-the-air updates and remote data wiping of misplaced devices. BlackBerry Enterprise Server is priced at $4,000 per server plus $100 per user or device. That price includes the BlackBerry e-mail service and device management.

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