Opinion

Mobility management is coming of age

2014’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona brought together the mobile telephony infrastructure industry, multiple handset suppliers and large numbers of mobile app tools and platforms. 

As always, it was overwhelming. Yet, in the area of mobility management, a clear pattern emerged of supplier consolidation and capability deepening, way beyond what traditional Mobile Device Management (MDM) provided even two to three years ago.

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In recent months the three biggest signs of consolidation were the purchase of MaaS360 by IBM, the completion of the purchase of AirWatch by VMware and the merger of Good Technologies and Boxtone. 

Other suppliers have made plenty of smaller purchases to bulk up and broaden their mobile-relevant products or services. The clear common intention is to make offerings more relevant to businesses that wish to manage mobility to open up new opportunities for business units, without prejudicing the existing operational organisation and IT estate.

Whereas MDM focused primarily on devices, today's initiatives go beyond these endpoints. Many of these broader capabilities could be seen at MWC and most included some combinations of:

  • Traditional device management (which does not go away)
  • App management (on the device)
  • Content/data management (on and off the device)
  • Security (passive and pro-active, on the device and off)
  • App development and its management for mobile devices
  • Integration into existing IT applications

The vendors with reasonably complete visions (though each has differing strengths) include, CA, Dell, Fujitsu, IBM, SAP, Symantec and VMware, and now we can probably add the merged Good Technologies and Boxtone.

It was noticeable how different suppliers played to different strengths. For example, both CA and IBM emphasise multi-platform app development and app life cycle management to complement device management. SAP has always emphasised how SUP and related products facilitate integration with its ERP and other back end suites. 

Fujitsu, in contrast, concentrates on providing mobile hardware and the services infrastructure to manage this. Symantec builds on its security experience (as do CA, Dell and IBM).

For IT, the good news is that there is much choice with at least seven credible broad service suppliers, with an eighth in the wings. Not visible at MWC (in the mobility management arena), but it's hard to believe they will not be in time, were BMC, HP, Microsoft and Oracle.

Will they move to play in a deepening market to support mobility in the enterprise? It will be incredible if some do not but they will have to buy significant expertise to jump-start their market entry.

What does this mean for IT or those who currently manage mobility? Your decisions will depend on whether you have bought an on-premise platform or adopted a SaaS-like approach and how long you are committed to each. 

Most suppliers reported significant customer churn as existing customers realise that their chosen MDM solutions of two or three years ago are less and less adequate for the breadth of requirements of today and tomorrow. 

Of course, this never applies to their own customers so each claims their own churn is minimal. This could be plausible if smaller suppliers are losing out (at one point Freeform Dynamics was tracking some 50+ such suppliers, beyond the 12 named above).

Security has risen up the ladder of importance too. There are many approaches, some of which focus on highly specific aspects. Almost all at MWC agreed that pro-active security (the ability to warn in advance of threats) is increasingly necessary when the range of threats continues to diversify over many more different device types. 

To make this harder there is the accompanying desire is to deliver a coherent security in a form that is largely invisible to the user. After all, burdensome security can prompt users to bypass it (even when they ought to know better).

One conclusion from MWC 2014 is that rich choices exist and functionality options are expanding when considering mobile management. Those who bought into SaaS-like mobile management may now have the greater flexibility in making new choices than those who invested in on-premise MDM assets, at least in the short term. 

Perhaps the practical lesson when buying mobility management is to avoid locking one’s organisation into the length of commitment that suppliers desire. Too many further changes and evolutions to mobility management are around the corner for IT to take too long a view. Just consider how much has changed since MWC 2012.   

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This was first published in March 2014

 

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