Mobile Device Management (MDM): What businesses need to know

The way in which we work has changed significantly in recent times. It was not that long ago that your standard office job meant being tethered to your desk from nine to five, glued to your PC screen. The rise of smartphones and web apps, however, have disrupted these traditional ways of working, granting employees more freedom than ever before. But this new mobile workforce also poses challenges for the modern business, particularly regarding security. Of course, organisations cannot afford to restrict workplace mobility, as this would see them overtaken by a more flexible and innovative competitor. Therefore, businesses are tasked with enabling mobility without introducing vulnerabilities into the workplace – which is where mobile device management comes in.

What exactly is mobile device management?

Mobile device management, or MDM, is a suite of tools that give businesses visibility and control over the mobile devices using its network, applications and data. Remote working, whilst giving staff and companies a number of productivity benefits, also makes it much harder for businesses to manage their IT resources. As a result, many businesses have installed MDM software on corporate mobile devices so that they can wrest some control back, without hindering mobility.

Some common features included within mobile device management software include:

  • Scanning external applications for malware and other possible security flaws.
  • Creating a record of which devices have accessed data and applications, and at which times, creating a clear record of accountability.
  • Preventing sensitive information from being transferred out of the company.
  • Creating different levels of authorisation, so that only the relevant individuals can access particular applications and datasets.
  • A single unified dashboard via which IT leaders can issue updates and monitor usage across all the company’s devices.
  • Remote wiping, which is likely to prove extremely useful should a mobile device be stolen or lost.
  • The implementation of other security management features, including password protection, inactivity logout, data encryption and jailbreak detection.
  • Real-time status updates and alert notifications should a mobile device compromise business applications or data.
  • The ability to track mobile call, texts and data usage, so employees can be informed of when they are reaching their monthly allowance.

Why is it suddenly so important?

As was touched upon above, mobile device management has become much more important because we are living in a more mobile world. According to a recent report by IDC, mobile workers will represent nearly three-quarters of the US workforce by 2020, driven by the affordability of smartphones and tablets.

"Mobility has become synonymous with productivity both inside and outside the workplace, and the mass adoption of mobile technology in the United States has cultivated an environment where workers expect to leverage mobile technology at work," explained Bryan Bassett, research analyst, Mobile Enterprise Device Solutions at IDC. "This expectation will be supplemented by new solutions specifically intended to manage the challenges associated with the growing needs of the mobile workforce."

As well as the increased availability of mobile technology, businesses have had to adapt to changes in workplace culture. Whereas employees were once keen to keep their work and home lives completely separate, there is a now a movement towards using consumer devices in the workplace. Being able to use their own smartphone or tablet lets employees use technology that they are familiar with and can save IT departments from purchasing new hardware, but it also introduces challenges. The rise of “bring your own device,” or BYOD, has meant the further erosion of control for IT teams. How can businesses be expected to manage and secure their workplace data and applications when they do not own the devices that they are stored on and accessed from? Mobile device management has, therefore, been vital for businesses that want to embrace both smartphone technology and BYOD policies.

Of course, it is not only smartphone growth that has placed added importance on MDM software. Cloud computing has also played a key role in the rise of remote working. The cloud has meant that important business resources can now be accessed from anywhere in the world providing that employees have an Internet connection and their login credentials. This means that sensitive information could be at risk when accessed via insecure networks. Employees, customers and clients now expect to be able to access workplace resources remotely, whether it’s checking emails or accessing critical apps. Increasingly, mobile device management is facilitating this remote access.

Choosing the right MDM tools

It is important for businesses to realise that not all MDM tools are identical. Some software will come with certain features, while omitting others, so IT leaders need to carefully assess the suitability of an MDM offering before committing. For example, some MDM tools will offer a self-enrolment portal, some will automatically quarantine devices that do not comply with company policy and many will behave differently when threats to the business are discovered. It is also vital to remember that MDM software cannot overcome the limitations of the mobile devices it is being installed upon. Although mobile device management may enforce password protection, for example, the strength of this security will also depend on the mobile device and its operating system.

The list of businesses offering mobile device management ranges from high-profile technology firms to smaller, more bespoke companies. Microsoft, Dell and BlackBerry all offer their own suites of MDM tools, whilst other popular mobile device management offerings include MobileIron and AirWatch. Organisations should also note that many MDM tools are offered either as on-premise or cloud-based solutions.

MDM: Securing the future

Considering the current trend towards embracing workplace mobility, it seems likely that mobile device management will grow in popularity for the foreseeable future. The emergence of wearable technologies and the Internet of Things means that the number of devices tasked with storing, transferring and securing business data is only going to increase. In a world where mobility is so often aligned with productivity, businesses cannot afford to place draconian restrictions on their employees or partners, which is why mobile device management is such a vital security measure for many organisations.

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