Mobility as a managed IT service

Instead of treating corporate mobile devices as expense-account items and point problems, BoxTone's next generation of software plans to treat them as part of an IT-managed service.

The company announced Tuesday an early release of its next version of BoxTone, which is a set of software applications  built around IT Information Library (ITIL) practices and policies, for systematizing and automating a range of tasks for mobility: incident management, mobile performance management, asset management and user self-service. It does this for mobile users and devices, multiple operating systems, applications and connectivity.

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There are two major changes in what BoxTone calls the early access release, both of which are intended to let enterprise IT groups treat mobility as a managed service, substantially automated. First are common dashboard-like consoles, one for overall user quality management, the second for help or service desk, that pull together data various data to create a high-level view of users' mobile experience. Second are connectors to third-party applications for specific mobile features, such as on-device encryption for a given mobile operating system.

"BoxTone is trying to bring all of these distinct separate elements [of mobile management] into one package,"says Brian Reed, vice president of products, BoxTone, Columbia, Maryland. "For IT managers, we give you everything to deliver the mobile service."

The new management dashboard can, for example, give an end-to-end overview through a combination of data and charts of a company's mobile e-mail systems. The dashboard can show metrics for servers such as BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Microsoft Exchange, e-mail application metrics, mobile carrier issues and user quality metrics.

The new service desk console gives a similar high-level view for help desk staff who can then drill down to uncover and identify mobile problems and fix them.

Much of the data is drawn, as with previous BoxTone generations from existing sources, such as the e-mail servers themselves. But now BoxTone is doing this for more mobile platforms, and consolidating a common view and common tasks across this diversity, and adding key functions. For example, BlackBerry, Android and iPhone all support the remote wiping of data, and the next BoxTone release will execute that function. But BoxTone can then monitor the wipe and validate that it's been carried out successfully, confirming this via an alert to the management console.

Similarly, the diagnostics incorporated in mobile client and server platforms typically report problems or errors in cryptic codes. BoxTone, in effect, translates these codes into instantly intelligible incidents, such as "calendaring error"or "inbox full,"and then provides a series of steps, including automated responses, for correcting the error.

BoxTone's capabilities are structured according to the discipline of IT service management, a systematic approach to managing information systems from the perspective of users or customers.

In areas where BoxTone lacks expertise, it's creating interfaces to third-party mobile offerings. Initially, the interfaces are for Google Apps for Mobile, Lotus Notes Traveler, Zimbra for open source e-mail and collaboration, and Good Technology.

An array of companies compete with BoxTone. Some are point solutions, for example, focusing on just device management; other are single-vendor solutions, such as BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Microsoft's Systems Center Mobile Device Manager; still others are expanding to be more comprehensive. Vendors include MobileIron, Sybase (Afaria) and Zenprise.

The early access release will eventually become BoxTone 6.0, due for release in late summer or early fall 2010. The new consoles will be part of the core product, working across whichever modules the customer selects. Pricing will be unchanged, starting typically at $35 per user, varying with the modules chosen.

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This story, "Mobility as a managed IT service" was originally published by Network World.

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