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Stopping Mobile Assets From Running Amuck

Sprint Corp.'s Mobile Business Assessment service includes analysis of existing mobile equipment and security procedures, software audits, and access and policy evaluations.

Cell phones, smart phones, and PDAs find their way into the workforce when employees buy them and use them without regard for official company and security policies. And even as more employers provide handheld devices for everyday communications, they still aren't treating them with the same level of security, policy, and cost controls as laptop and desktop machines.

Sprint Corp. last week launched its Mobile Business Assessment service to help companies bring controls to mobile devices. It includes analysis of existing mobile equipment and security procedures, software audits, and access and policy evaluations. Sprint's consultants develop objectives based on how customers want to use wireless devices and set up strategies and plans for purchases and deployments.

Businesses are beginning to understand that wireless spending has a big impact on total expenditures, says Eugene Signorini, an analyst at the Yankee Group. IT departments need to access mobile devices to implement security policies, update software, and perform other systems-management tasks. In addition, businesses dealing with regulatory requirements sometimes need to track information going to and from mobile devices.

"Most companies have a good grip on managing their laptops, but not on managing cellular devices or mobile devices, although both should be treated equally," Signorini says.

The Sprint service is available to any businesses, including those that don't use Sprint's existing wireless products and services. It's more focused on deployment and long-term strategy than Sprint's Managed Mobility Services, which the company launched in March for Sprint Business Solutions customers.

The average cost of the Managed Mobility Services is $5 to $20 a month per user. A five-week engagement with Sprint's Mobile Business Assessment service will cost about $65,000.

Businesses are nervous about the risks mobility introduces. In a Forrester Research survey of 703 telecom execs, 35% say security is the major reason for not deploying wireless data applications. Developing a solid management plan and strategy for mobile assets before they're purchased can help alleviate those concerns, Forrester analyst Ellen Daley says.

Businesses can develop a mobile strategy internally and have their help desks manage and support the mobile devices employees use. But larger companies tend to have more mobility needs than small and midsize businesses, Daley says. That's why they may prefer turning to professional services such as Sprint's Mobile Business Assessment and Managed Mobility. In addition many IT departments aren't equipped yet to deal with mobility issues and are outsourcing management of this area to service providers, Daley says.

Law firm Kirkland & Ellis, which supports about 1,300 employees and 1,000 clients using wireless devices in its U.S. and international offices over the course of a year, sees mobile-asset-management services as a natural extension of the services and support that are common to the desktop environment. As more professionals become mobile, and wireless devices get more sophisticated, managing this complex environment will be necessary, CIO Steve Novak says. "Now you can order a latte or burger and simultaneously replicate your E-mail to a PDA or smart phone," Novak says.

That should be enough of a reason for companies to start rethinking their mobile-management strategies.

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