Channel Partners: Mobile Device Management Is Only The First Step

As the "consumerization of IT" trend picks up pace, so is demand for mobile device management (MDM) solutions that can help IT teams keep tabs on the influx of smartphones and tablets pouring into the enterprise at unprecedented rates. These solutions, according to channel partners in the mobility space, lay a foundation for organizations looking to embark on a full-fledged mobile transformation.

But MDM adoption, at the end of the day, is still just that: foundational. The use of these solutions, while essential, must be rounded out with a slew of other strategic investments and infrastructure overhauls before the realization of a truly mobilized -- and truly secure -- enterprise workforce.

And just as it's a launching-off point for organizations looking to define a larger mobile strategy, MDM is also a launching-off point for channel partners selling the platforms, for those who can leverage them to initiate new conversations and construct broader mobile solutions for their clients.

[Related: 10 New Mobile Device Management Solutions To Ease BYOD Headaches ]

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MDM platforms, whether used as a first step or an end-to-end mobile solution, are offering relief for consumerization-spurred headaches. As a result, demand for these solutions is on the rise. Market researcher Forrester published a revised growth outlook for the MDM market in August, pegging its worth to be around $6.6 billion by 2015, nearly doubling the firm's original outlook of $3.9 billion.

Many vendors have been ramping up fresh MDM offerings or making smartphone- and tablet-friendly versions of their existing PC management platforms to vie for a piece of this billion-dollar pie. Microsoft, for example, announced this year it would be expanding its PC management software InTune to include new MDM capabilities, such as device and policy management.

Eric Main, director of product marketing for Windows InTune at Microsoft, said that the software giant's decision to incorporate MDM functionality was prompted almost entirely by customer and partner demand.

"This next [InTune] release that we announced the pre-release of for this year, we're moving into the area of MDM, which was one of the really key areas that customers and partners talked about," Main told CRN. "It's obviously a pretty growing, top need for a lot of our customers."

He made note of the cloud-based infrastructure on which the upcoming release is based, which will enable IT teams and solution providers to access these MDM capabilities remotely. The new InTune will provide support for Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices, and it was described by Main as a "people-centric" technology, meaning admins can drill down into user-specific views to see which types of devices and apps each of their employees is using.

He explained that, in larger organizations especially, partners will face the opportunity to resell this InTune platform to admins, whose PC-centric governance models are often too rigid to apply to mobile infrastructures without the help of MDM. In smaller organizations, which tend to lack in-house IT teams, partners can leverage InTune as part of a managed services model for remote management of client devices.

Next: The Mobile Device Management Market is Booming

In both environments -- SMBs and large enterprises -- Main anticipates Microsoft customers turning to partners to help them map out and manage larger mobile strategies, as their conversations inevitably evolve beyond MDM.

"We are also seeing partners really step in, especially in even slightly smaller organizations," Main said. "IT, in some organizations, has been, 'We install a PC and flip on automatic security updates and that's our management process.' But as you start to have more mobile devices floating around within that organization, and as you start to have just more recognition of the advantages that come from a well-managed environment, customers are recognizing that it would be great to be able to do more in this area, and they are turning to partners to offer a more full-fledged solution."

Fellow software giant SAP has noticed a similar spike in demand for MDM offerings, including in its Afaria platform, which it added to its product portfolio with its 2010 acquisition of Sybase. Its mobility unit, as a whole, has seen a 350 percent growth rate over the past few years, Mark Jordan, senior product manager of Afaria at Sybase, told CRN.

The company just released a new iteration of Afaria, version 7.0, that delivers a "refreshed" user interface and new API layer for enhanced integration with existing enterprise applications. Like Microsoft's Eric Main, Jordan noted that partners often leverage Afaria in a managed services model for SMBs, and they tend to re-sell the solution to larger organizations.

But, again, in both cases, partners are turned to for more than a managed service. They are called upon by clients looking to build a mobility roadmap or understand the broader security, application, and expense management implications of deploying a mobile environment. This trend is so widespread that it has prompted SAP, and many of its partners, to start replacing the phrase "mobile device management" with the broader "mobility management."

"Everybody in the industry is really looking more toward, I guess, a new definition [for MDM]," Jordan said. "We're all looking for the right one, and I think 'mobility management' seems to be what people are coming up with in lieu of a better one, because it seems to encompass more than just device management."

Joel Osman, senior executive of Technology Labs at Accenture, a global consultancy, solution provider and SAP partner, has noticed an uptake in demand for these larger "mobility management" services over the past few years.

"In the enterprise, BYOD is just sort of flushing over them, whether they like it or not. And in many respects, that's what's driving them to start thinking about it," he said. "So we have a lot of conversations and do a lot of work around figuring out all the different pieces and parts that need to be in place, not just to support BYOD but to really derive value out of mobility."

Next: Defining These Larger 'Pieces And Parts' Of MDM

Accenture's Osman told CRN that of all the "pieces and parts" clients seek to define when building a mobile strategy beyond MDM, apps seem to be front of mind. One of the biggest advantages of embracing the consumerization trend is on-the-go access to enterprise apps. But many clients struggle to re-design these apps to run on mobile platforms or pinpoint which apps should even be deployed on employee-owned devices in the first place.

MDM is no doubt "foundational," he said. But mobile application management -- or "MAM" -- must be tackled next. Many clients, he explained, struggle to deploy enterprise apps across increasingly heterogeneous mobile environments that encompass a hybrid of iOS, Android, Windows and BlackBerry operating systems. In turn, solution providers that can help facilitate these complex deployments are becoming a hot commodity.

"You need to think about MDM and then MAM, which is mobile application management. So a lot of our mobile device offerings in the marketplace have two faces. There's core MDM for securing devices and that's what IT and IT security is interested in. And, the other half of our offering is our Enterprise Application Catalog," Osman said, describing the catalog as a hosted service from which clients can access, deploy, and manage their apps.

"I encourage clients to think about the mobile app management side of this, even if you are just on your first couple of apps, because it's going to explode as you start building more and more," he told CRN.

David Hekimian, CTO of Trace3, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider and partner of mobile device management vendor Zenprise, has noticed a similar trend among clients. Mobile device management seems to kick start a series of other mobility-related conversations, most of which revolve around apps.

"What we have seen demand for from a customer side is 'How do we handle this?' and 'What is the big picture that is mobility or mobile security?'" Hekimian said. He said he explains the bigger mobility picture to clients as a handful of puzzle pieces, each piece representing a different strategic layer, such as MDM, Wi-Fi networks or app management.

Apart from apps, secure file sharing is another piece of the mobility puzzle that often needs to be tackled after the MDM foundation is laid. Hekimian said about two-thirds of what begins as MDM conversations with clients ultimately turn to conversations about secure file-sharing and data management practices for mobile environments.

Next: Moving On To The Next Mobile Management Step

Forrester analyst Christian Kane made note of this trend in a recent company blog post. Like Trace3's Hekimian and Accenture's Osman, he viewed MDM as an essential first step to control physical mobile devices in the enterprise. But as mobile environments become more sophisticated, solutions around application and mobile data management will grow in importance.

"Realistically, MDM only solves your challenge around device control," Kane wrote. "That's the path that many vendors are following today. As the MDM market becomes more commoditized, most vendors are turning their engineers towards data protection and sharing tools and application management technology."

Christopher Hertz, founder and CEO of New Signature, a New York-based solution provider and Microsoft partner, said that his MDM conversations with clients usually lead to broader discussions around infrastructure. Like apps and data management, reducing infrastructure costs and complexity, which can sometimes escalate in "consumerized" environments, is often a natural next step for clients laying an MDM foundation.

"This has precipitated a strong demand for mobile device management," Hertz said of the bring-your-own-device or consumerization trend. "But there is an equally strong demand from IT to avoid adding infrastructure complexity to support these new requirements, as additional personnel resources are not being allocated to accommodate this new responsibility," Hertz said.

As a result, he continued, demand for the deployment of both cloud-based infrastructures and mobile management platforms, like InTune, is on the rise.

It seems, then, that MDM offers a win-win for both end users and solution providers. For end users, it puts in place the essential underpinnings of a holistic mobile strategy. For solution providers, it presents the opportunity to be part of that strategy.

"[MDM] is something you want to lay in place, and it becomes a springboard; once you have it and have a certain degree of manageability … you can take a breath, and say 'Alright, the next mountain I'm going to climb foundationally is do I build apps, or mobile web, or do I need middleware or not?'" said Accenture's Osman. "Once you lay that groundwork, it's off to the races."