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Dialing Into a Strategy

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2009-10-26 Print this article Print

There’s no sense bemoaning the proliferation of mobile devices in the enterprise. That ‘genie’ escaped years ago. Now it’s up to IT executives to manage the myriad mobile devices used by employees, develop coherent usage policies and deploy security to protect corporate assets.

Dialing Into a Strategy

It’s critical to create a strategy for managing a mobile environment. Applications such as Sybase Afaria, Trellia, Microsoft Systems Center Device Manager and Odyssey Software Athena provide increasingly sophisticated mobile management features. These include the ability to configure devices remotely, enforce different sets of policies for different users and devices, and view applications running on all of them.

Many of these packages also provide diagnostics features and support troubleshooting and help desk activities. The latter is important because mobile devices travel off premises and away from hands-on IT support.

IDC’s Ryan urges enterprises to examine device management applications carefully. And there’s no single template even within the same industry. “Some organizations support only a single platform, and others support multiple platforms,” he says. “You have to understand what you want to achieve and where you’re headed so you don’t wind up getting boxed in.”

Flexibility is only part of the story, however. Mobile device management also involves thinking through a spate of practical issues, such as who pays the phone bill, who owns the phone number, how to deliver tech support, and which applications the enterprise allows on smartphones and laptops. Further complicating matters, various groups of employees usually have entirely different needs and usage patterns.

These are all issues that Soberman LLP, a Toronto-based public accounting firm, faced when it moved to a mobile platform. The 150-person company has specialists who spend about 90 percent of their time in the field providing accounting and auditing services. In some cases, they are at a client site for a week to 10 days. As a result, mobile tools are essential, and staying connected to enterprise systems is unavoidable. What’s more, security, privacy and confidentiality are vital, notes Susan Hodkinson, chief operating officer.

Soberman has turned to a mix of devices and systems. Accountants mostly carry BlackBerrys, but employees also rely on laptops equipped with dial-up, 3G data cards, Wi-Fi and WiMax. And a few executives carry netbooks.

Within this environment, it’s crucial to achieve a high level of IT compliance and security. So Soberman opted for a Trellia mobile management system that provides provisioning, simplifies compliance and standardizes various processes. The solution also helps the company track billing and cost issues, including which devices make sense for various user groups.

No less important, the application allows the firm to designate which Wi-Fi networks employees are allowed to connect with and the order in which they can connect. “Creating a whitelist and a blacklist is enormously important,” says Robin Persaud, senior network engineer at Soberman. “We’re able to secure the devices and the network far more effectively.”

These systems can assist in other ways. Many organizations, including Safelite and Soberman, are moving away from a reimbursement model for mobility devices and are adopting an employer-paid model. This approach makes it easier to control the device and phone number, while also amping up security. It also sheds paperwork by eliminating expense reports for mobile devices.

“For many companies, it makes a lot more sense to set limits and look for exceptions, rather than tracking everyone and everything,” says IDC’s Ryan.

Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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