November 12, 2012
IBM announced Friday new software and service additions to its Mobile Enterprise suite. A mixture of consulting programs, first-time features and repackaged combinations of existing technologies, the offerings are intended to span the gamut of mobility needs, from mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM) to app development and analytics.
IBM's unveiling arrives as the market around IT consumerization continues to evolve and grow more competitive. BYOD initially ushered in the MDM phase, which was focused on provisioning and managing the phones and tablets themselves. As it became clear that devices are less important than the information they carry, BYOD security shifted to the MAM phase, which emphasized management of apps. New acronyms continue to pop up, with mobile enterprise management (MEM) gaining use as an MDM-MAM hybrid, but a more significant development might be gaining attention from industry powers.
Many BYOD needs were met by specialty vendors and security firms. Earlier in November, though, Dell declared its intentions to contend in the crowded arena. IBM is likewise stepping up its efforts, with attention paid not only to device management and security, but also to unlocking new business opportunities through the use of mobile devices.
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On the security front, IBM's unveiling included updates to the company's Endpoint Manager. Many of the features are expected in a competitive, enterprise-class product including remote wipe and management capabilities and support for iOS 6, Android, Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry devices. That said, IBM offers a possible point of differentiation in its context-sensitive security functions.
In an interview, Mike Riegel, the company's VP for mobile enterprise and Websphere, explained that if a nurse uses a tablet in an operating room, he or she should have immediate access to medical records and other sensitive materials. If the nurse uses the same device down the street, outside the company's firewall, meanwhile, precautions should be more aggressive.
IBM allows a variety of security profiles to be defined depending on specific circumstances, such as whether the user is inside or outside the corporate network, and establishes authentication requirements and permissions accordingly. Other proximity-aware products exist, but Riegel said IBM offers "everything they do and more," noting that the company offers not only more security profile options but also a management dashboard intended to "save companies from having to manage multiple sets of IDs."
Most management tools "got started with point projects," he said, "but companies need a holistic approach."
The announcement caters to a holistic viewpoint thanks not only to specific security features but also to general enhancements to IBM Mobile Foundation, the company's platform for device management, app development and cloud integration. Riegel said that rather than struggling with multiple OSes and platforms, businesses can use IBM's Mobile Development Lifecycle Solution, which harnesses the company's Worklight and Rational technologies, to write code once and then deploy content across a range of OSes, form factors and corporate app stores.
Riegel noted that the demand for custom apps is rising, stating that IBM allows companies to enjoy cost savings through a streamlined, comprehensive process that cuts down the development cycle.
In a related vein, IBM also offers app analytics that have been bolstered by its recent Tealeaf acquisition. Riegel said the company can do more than simply track how often an app is launched. Instead, it takes a big data-like approach.
"It gives you every degree of insight into how people are using the mobile app," he stated, noting that it can track whether UI option such as pinches, swipes or display rotations have been accessed. Data can also be culled from factors that include security logons, time spent in certain modules, the sequence in which modules were accessed and other usage patterns. Riegel mentioned that the information could be used to personalize retail offers or simply to understand what users like, which should lead to higher feedback ratings in app stores and thus to more widespread use. Consultant services offered through IBM's Mobile Infrastructure Strategy and Planning Services rounded out the announcement. Riegel said the program will cover needs that range from developing a new mobile strategy from the ground up, to spotting gaps in an existing plan.
With app development and analytics built into its mobility platform alongside more conventional MEM capabilities, IBM is positioning itself as a one-stop shop, an advantage that Dell also touted in its recent announcements. Perhaps more crucially, IBM is also moving beyond mere security and management, taking the stance that mobile devices are opportunities, not threats to be locked down. The company isn't unique in this perspective -- but with a large suite of complementary services and tools, the company contends it is better equipped than many smaller vendors to help businesses actually execute a forward-thinking strategy.
One company taking this approach is TBC Corporation, which bills itself as "the nation's largest vertically integrated marketer of tires for the automotive replacement market." In an interview, John Capriotti, the company's VP of architecture and e-commerce, said that IBM products are helping TBC change the way customers interact with vehicle maintenance.
The automotive service industry can only inspire loyalty by establishing trust, he asserted, noting that most customers don't fully understand maintenance services but still want to know that they're not being exploited. TBC's answer is to provide educational content that empowers users to understand the services an automotive business is recommending, and to provide transparency by allowing users to compare the recommendations to the manufacturer's suggestions.
"The best opportunity to do that was on a mobile device," he said, noting that when his team develops an app, IBM's tools limit unnecessary user interface and equipment constraints and allow multiplatform deployments.
He added that the company wants ultimately to expand into apps that are built into cars themselves, and into augmented reality tools that allow users to see potential cosmetic changes depicted on their personal vehicle, rather than on a generic model. He remarked that TBC's efforts are still in an early stage but noted that its proof-of-concept builds have been successful enough to attract partnership offers from major companies.
Riegel said TBC considered other options when planning its initiative. He said that after bids were submitted, though, IBM offered "the only solution that lived up to the hype."
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