Six Tips For Navigating The MDM Jungle

As mobile device management and mobile application management choices become overwhelming, consider these key issues.
3. Keep Personal and Business Separate

Davis said virtualization techniques that partition enterprise apps from personal ones are "the holy grail" of mobile data management. Many products--such as AT&T's Toggle, VMware's Horizon Mobile, and RIM's BlackBerry Balance--cater to this theme.

Other approaches include keeping documents within an encrypted wrapper, even when they're stored locally. Crook wrote that "individual apps with their own security and policy measures will be an attractive feature across many verticals." Hazelton noted, however, that some document containers are so strong as to actually impede productivity, with some applications making it difficult to sync with external databases and systems.

Whatever the method, Morales said application-level authentication and encryption are essential components in any secure enterprise environment.

4. There Are No One-Size-Fits-All Solutions

Hazelton said that tiered policies, in which administrators set permissions for only certain employees or groups, are essential to protecting sensitive data. Davis also emphasized the importance of user and group-based IT controls. Similarly important is the ability to push app updates to remote devices and to otherwise manage phones and tablets from afar.

User groups aren't just about protecting content; they're also about equipping different types of employees for their respective tasks. A product such as VerifyCloud, which ensures the integrity of photos taken with smartphone cameras, could be useful to field inspectors but is less clearly applicable to a boardroom, for example. IT managers should be prepared to choose multiple products, as even alleged "end-to-end" solutions might not serve all needs.

5. Local vs. Remote Storage

It can be convenient to store corporate data on a device; field employees who need to access documents on airplanes or in areas with shoddy network reception, for instance, might find cloud-based systems impractical.

Then again, local storage intensifies the risk that lost devices will lead to data theft. If data is accessible only when an app is open, such concerns are mitigated.

Grossman suggested most companies will use a mixture of both device-based and remote storage techniques. Clouds can be complicated, he said, because "if it's your cloud app, [content] can be stored according to your standard. But if it's someone else's cloud, you're relying entirely on someone else's infrastructure, which demands investigation."

6. Forget Long-Term Investments

Dan Shey of ABI Research stated in an email that "operators offering MDM solutions to their enterprise customers have two to four MDM vendors that they use." The multi-pronged approach involves not only feature differentiation, he said, but also contingencies in case a small provider goes out of business.

Chenxi Wang echoed this sentiment: "The CIOs I've spoken to are resigned to the fact that investments in mobile management … are possibly going to be thrown away in two years," she said, citing the rapid evolution of mobile technologies.

Shey predicted that there will be a consolidation of MDM suppliers and operators, so the multi-vendor, short-term strategy might be a fleeting trend. But for now, it is often necessary to focus on current needs as much as long-term strategies.

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