5 questions to ask your mobility solutions provider

Whether you’re looking to put a mobility management solution in place for the first time, considering changing providers, or just looking for additional capabilities, there are many aspects to consider when choosing a mobility solution provider. As your usage of mobile technologies matures, you’ll likely move towards more specialized use cases and requirements that are topics for future discussion. Today we will review 5 general questions to ask when assessing the offerings of mobility solution providers.

Do you provide an MDM or EMM solution?

Mobility management solutions made their start as tools to configure and track mobile devices. Products with these core capabilities are known as Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions. There are over 100 MDM solutions on the market today, all leveraging a discrete set of API’s provided by mobile device and OS manufacturers. This fixed collection of settings and querying capabilities allows MDM solutions to configure items like email and VPN settings on a device, enforce restrictions such as requiring a device lock passcode or disabling the use of a built-in camera, and query for device type, status, installed apps, etc. MDM solutions use these features to allow customers to inventory devices, to conveniently configure them for use by their employees, and to ensure required security by restricting device features and initiating a remote wipe or lock of a device if necessary.

In recent years, many vendors have expanded their solution to include functionality outside the typical scope of MDM; the aim being to meet growing enterprise needs for applications, collaboration and workflow enablement, on top of their core mobility platform. If you’re looking for routine device configuration, security and tracking, MDM may be a good fit for you. If you’re a large business or have plans to implement even mildly complex mobile workflows, it would be wise to consider a full EMM vendor. Which leads into our next question…

Does your solution include MAM and MCM?

Not every solution provider includes Mobile Application Management (MAM) and Mobile Content Management (MCM). These are generally considered required components of an EMM solution, so going that route typically will get you these functions to some degree.

MAM solutions go beyond the basic app inventory capabilities in MDM to provide the ability to distribute, control and secure mobile applications. These can be internally developed ‘enterprise apps’ or public 3rd party apps. Many solution providers include SDK’s or wrapping technologies that allow apps to participate in ‘secure containers’ on a device, working together with other managed apps to securely exchange information and preventing misuse. If you have important security requirements or a desire to proactively distribute and manage apps, MAM will be valuable to have in your solution.

MCM provides the ability to access the file content that businesses use day to day. Often this content is already in use with laptops & desktops and extending access to mobile devices is a natural progression to enable full productivity. Enterprise file content might reside on individuals’ office or home computer, on a file server, NAS or SharePoint server. MCM allows this content to be accessed by users, and in many cases synced, edited, collaborated on, and distributed to internal and external business partners. EMM solutions should provide some degree of MCM, at a minimum, the ability to make a specific set of files that are uploaded to the EMM solution available to mobile users. More sophisticated solutions have the ability to give access to files located on existing file servers, NAS and SharePoint servers. EMM solutions do not typically include sophisticated collaboration and sharing capabilities, or allow syncing and access of content from Macs, PCs and web portals. For these requirements, a full Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) solution is often required.

Do you offer a SaaS or an on-premises solution?

This is a simple but important question. Based on your technical expertise, IT resources and security stance, you may already be leaning towards the ease of hosted SaaS software or the control and security of on-premises solutions. This decision may also be influenced by a preference toward subscription software licensing or owning your solution outright.

Many vendors offer one or both of these deployment models. Some even offer the hybrid capability of a hosted management console, plus on-premises software to enable devices to communicate with internal systems, web portals, or file content repositories.

Do you support the platforms and technologies that we plan to use, and how rapidly do you add support for new devices and operating system releases?

While this may seem like an unnecessary question as the mobility solutions market matures, there remains a wide range of support and capability among solution providers. While support for iOS and Android devices is fairly universal today, these platforms add desirable MDM and enterprise features with each major release. For instance, iOS has added native features that allow basic but powerful application management, such as remote app configuration, sandboxing of data exchange between apps, and per-app VPN. But, these features must be configured through an MDM or EMM solution and some providers are more aggressive about adding these advanced features.

In addition, if you are using platforms with smaller market share, such as Windows Mobile or Blackberry, a solution provider may offer a more limited set of features or omit that platform completely. If these devices are an important part of your business, you’ll need to look closely at how they are supported.

What is your philosophy on device and data security?

Finally, vendors take different approaches to how they manage device and data security. Some vendors attempt to utilize native features, functions and applications whenever possible. This preserves the user experience that most users are comfortable with and can help with the acceptance of allowing you to manage an employee’s personal device in a BYOD scenario.

On the other end of the spectrum are vendors who utilize their own mobile applications for as much enterprise functionality as possible. This allows for separation of enterprise email, calendar, contacts, internal web access, file content and other enterprise apps, and can result in a very manageable and secure solution. Users will need to learn to work with these new applications though and may be limited in the other apps they can use for business purposes.