Mobile device management: A necessary cost or a cost saver?

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

IT has been handed the responsibility of adapting security and access policies to accommodate our mobile phones and tablets. The expense of mobile device management (MDM) has become another accepted cost of doing business. But what if MDM was a cost saver?

Security was the impetus for the first MDM solutions. Companies recognized the need to protect corporate assets on the devices, and witnessed the headlines and damages to company reputation that could result from a malicious phone app stealing employee contact information or worse. With liability at stake, securing mobile devices became the top priority.

CLEAR CHOICE TEST: How to protect smartphones and tablets

ANALYSIS: Can employee-owned devices save companies money?

Basic MDM solutions still focus on preventing unauthorized access to corporate data and avoiding the risk of a public relations fiasco around data breaches or thefts. However, an MDM solution can do a lot more.

A holistic device management platform can merge two previously distinct areas: mobile device management (MDM) and telecom expense management (TEM). The combination of MDM+TEM creates a mobile device lifecycle management solution that can actually pay for itself. In fact, in most cases, these expanded MDM platforms directly contribute to the bottom line with as much as a 30% annual reduction in mobile device-related expenses.

This is not as simple as just deploying separate MDM and TEM applications. The diversity of devices, operating systems, apps and carrier services complicates the aggregation and sharing of device status and activity. A single, integrated, holistic device lifecycle management solution is required to cover it all: security, applications, device oversight and expense control.

Complete mobile lifecycle management

The leading device management solutions address the challenges of device diversity, and introduce real-time management features within a framework that spans the entire device lifecycle. Besides broad support for the various types of devices, IT should look for a solution that can cover both company-owned and "bring-your-own devices" (BYODs). [Also see: "Corporate-owned vs. employee-owned mobile devices"]

Visibility of mobile device usage is the first step in effective mobile device management. A company can and should be tracking the various device uses that drive up expenses. Beyond basic voice, data, and text services, an expanded lifecycle management platform can point to the source of charges for 411 calls, international roaming, and other activities that rapidly multiply expenses.

A full-featured platform should also let IT set limits for usage and tailor the limits to job function or the user's position in the organization. Thresholds and alerts can enforce company usage policies, and reports can help departments budget more accurately.

Real-time telecom expense management is by no means a standard feature of every MDM solution on the market today. By choosing a platform that combines both device and expense management, however, a business gains a level of intelligence that can turn a guideline or suggestion into a legitimate cost-reducing capability.

IN DEPTH: A sampling of BYOD user policies

Advanced management functions

To minimize other hidden costs associated with mobile device management, device management technology has expanded to include procurement workflow and device inventory management. The goal is to help the business monitor and optimize expenses and policies over the entire lifespan of each device.

Starting with purchases, a device lifecycle management platform can introduce and automate a hierarchical approval process for devices and service plans. Employees' options and reimbursement policies can be tailored to departments and user profiles, and devices and plans can be bundled and offered to lower spending.

Businesses also need the ability to track and correlate employee, device and service plan status. The introduction of a full-featured device management solution inevitably uncovers service plan payments being made for devices no longer in use, or reimbursements coming out of a department's budget for employees who have left the company or changed jobs.

Real-time visibility makes it possible to identify and flag devices that do not meet the company's requirements in terms of minimum hardware and software levels, or those devices that are eligible for upgrades or plan adjustments. Automated functions can also include history logs for users and groups, giving IT and finance teams valuable information for trend analysis and accurate expense forecasting.

These types of capabilities are key differentiators for the platforms offered on the market today. And the levels of automation also vary from vendor to vendor. While a small business might be able to regularly review reports, a large enterprise should carefully consider the time required to manually review summaries of device status and use, and look for a solution that automatically generates change orders to service providers in the event of any detected changes in device or employee status.

Is MDM worth it?

What kind of cost savings can a business expect? You might be thinking that a full device lifecycle management solution -- an integrated platform that can meet the needs of IT, finance, security and compliance officers, and management -- is going to come with a high price tag and long payback period.

While it is true that some of the enterprise-class MDM and TEM solutions require substantial getting-started investments, both for the software and for the required server platforms, there are cost-effective software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings available at price points that offer very attractive ROI to businesses of all sizes.

Businesses should also look for a solution with lightweight agents for the devices being managed. This is essential for extending the life of the MDM solution, in terms of its scalability as the company grows. Users are also much more likely to accept a solution that has a small device footprint, especially in the case of BYOD.

The attractive ROI and minimized impact on the devices themselves are compelling factors in the business case for a device lifecycle management solution. Other cost-saving or operational impacts add more incentives. For example, the insights that can be gained about device use behaviors can enhance budgeting, and also enable more accurate forecasts for infrastructure capacity planning. And businesses can identify opportunities for cost reductions, and lower telecom expenses by as much as 40% by choosing carriers and plans that ideally suit the company budgets.

Tracking real-time patterns ultimately shifts device management from a reactive to a proactive activity, and enables immediate changes that can avoid over-spending in a fast-growing expense category. With the automatic alerts and advanced features such as automatic change-order generation, the advanced lifecycle management platforms further drive down total cost of ownership for the solution and maximize the effective savings relating to the managed devices.

Historians, sociologists and anthropologists will decide if smart devices changed our lives -- and our businesses -- for the good. Regardless of the final assessments, the devices are part of our reality today. And MDM, like the smart devices themselves, is clearly here to stay. By choosing the right platform, however, one that combines device and expense management, businesses can turn a cost into a cost saver.

Founded in 2001, Amtel offers the industry's first integrated solution for managing smart device security and telecom expenses. Provided via a convenient and cost effective SaaS platform, Amtel MDM is the only SAS 70 Type II certified solution for MDM, offering the highest level of data security and reliability. For more information, please visit www.amtelnet.com.

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This story, "Mobile device management: A necessary cost or a cost saver?" was originally published by NetworkWorld.

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