We talk frequently about mobility policies and the concept of acceptable use for mobile devices and services. Many companies have a clear understanding of the platforms and policies they want to deploy across their organizations. When the time comes for implementation, many IT departments find themselves lacking in the know-how required to build a successful mobility support organization. Others may find staff in short supply and a lack of available candidates.
There are several schools of thought about what to do in situations like these, but there is plenty of data demonstrating the value that outsourcing, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and other managed services can provide for an IT organization. In this first of a six-part series on the topic, we discuss the benefits of managed mobility and establish a few ground rules so that we can give some perspective to the services we discuss in subsequent articles.
What are managed mobility services?
There are two types of managed services: outsourcing and applications hosting. The difference between the two is largely a matter of degree. Application hosting and SaaS focus on delivering the benefits of enterprise mobility software without requiring a company to invest in the infrastructure to make it happen. For example, numerous companies exist to provide hosted Microsoft Exchange services; customers can buy the service and use in-house IT professionals to manage users without having to maintain servers, software and licenses. Outsourcing assumes a larger purview of the process, encapsulating headcount, IT processes, support and help desk. If applications hosting addresses a specific mobile application, then outsourcing would turn full responsibility for the application, including people and processes, into a service.
Managed services offer numerous benefits, including faster time to deployment, best practices and up-to-date technology skill sets. Cost is another factor that ranges beyond operational expense. Many IT organizations look to a managed services company to provide predictable pricing that keeps marginal costs steady. Smaller companies can benefit from economies of scale that simply do not exist in their own organizations.
Aside from the general benefits of managed services, there are some mobility-specific issues as well. Mobile devices are distributed in the field, and the cost of support, help desk, device provisioning and break-fix scenarios can be unpredictable for many IT organizations. Platform stability is also an important factor to weigh against frequent technology refresh rates - managed services organizations can help IT management to balance these complex issues.
Before we discuss the different types of managed mobility services, we will discuss a few marketplace ground rules. These represent assumptions about the industry and where it is headed, and they also provide context for the services under discussion.
Ground rule #1: Enterprise demographics
The mobile operators are a dominant factor for enterprise mobility because they are the primary source for mobile devices such as cellular telephones, smartphones and personal digital assistants. Despite this marketplace dominance, top carrier management continues to view enterprise customers as a "rounding error" in their overall business.
Because corporate purchases represent a small percentage of the overall subscriber volume, mobile operators prefer to rely on existing retail channels for distribution. Instead of the three-tier model familiar to many IT professionals, wireless carriers continue to push enterprise customers to retail outlets for account activation, device provisioning and support. This consumer-focused, retail model for the enterprise will dominate in the years to come.
Ground rule #2: No back-end integration
Telephone companies have been trying for years to integrate their billing, provisioning and operational support systems. Acquisitions, mergers and consolidations continue to work against these integration efforts, and despite "convergent billing" and other efforts, carriers are no closer to their goal of a single, unified platform for customer provisioning, billing, service creation and management.
It is easy to view wireless operators as monolithic entities with monolithic platforms, but the more realistic picture is of a confederation of platforms united under a single carrier brand. For the enterprise, the lack of integration among the multitude of carrier billing and operational support platforms means that it will remain complicated to manage electronic interaction between enterprise and carrier infrastructures.
Ground rule #3: Standardized enterprise platforms
As IT professionals develop experience with mobility, companies are rapidly moving to standardized platforms for mobility. Large companies are now standardizing on a single device, a single operating system, and a well-tested software load. Standardization is changing the nature of device provisioning, software updating and support.
Many companies know that they want to mobilize large numbers of workers. IT managers are architecting solutions and working with the user community to define functional mobility policies. Implementing these programs can be taxing for IT departments tasked with providing services to large numbers of mobile workers. And managed mobility services - including everything from device fulfillment and applications hosting to outsourcing - provide a steady path to deployment.
In the remainder of this series, we will discuss managed services for device management, email, enterprise applications, and cellular telephony. The series will culminate with a best practices guide. In this first part, we have established a few ground rules that paint a picture of today's mobile enterprise as a world in which enterprises seek to deploy standardized platforms for mobility supported through existing carrier retail channels and deployed with a minimum of back-end integration between carrier and enterprise networks.
About the author: Daniel Taylor is managing director for the Mobile Enterprise Alliance, Inc. (MEA), and he is responsible for global alliance development, programs, marketing and member relations. He brings over fourteen years of high technology experience and is well known as a subject matter expert on many of the aspects of mobility, including wireless data networking, security, enterprise applications and communications services. Prior to the MEA, Dan held a number of product marketing and development positions in the communications industry.