Choosing Mobile Device Management software

Group of employees sat down all looking at their mobile devices

There was a time when mobile device management was only accessible to large corporations with deep pockets, but these days there's an MDM tool available for practically every budget

As a general rule, if you run a business that has ten devices or more or if you have a number of smartphones and tablets that access your network remotely, MDM should be a serious consideration.

What is mobile device management?

MDM is a mixture of policy and software application that enables companies to manage, monitor and configure any number of mobile devices throughout an organisation.

The best MDM solutions enable devices of all kinds to live safely on the same network and to be administered centrally, no matter their location or the operating system on which they run. MDM has transformed IT support and provides ultimate control for those responsible for business IT systems, big or small.

What does mobile device management software do?

Mobile device management is a blanket term for a number of highly useful functions. The main features will allow you to:

  • set up and configure your devices centrally across a number of platforms including iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, Chrome OS and more
  • protect your devices centrally against security threats such as malware and malicious apps
  • lock and wipe devices remotely in the event of loss or theft
  • encrypt your data
  • configure and manage your VPN
  • manage your Wi-Fi and network access
  • Implement your password management policy

Choosing the right MDM solution for your business is vital, and with so many options on the market, the wrong choice can prove costly. Most MDM apps offer a free trial and typically charge on a per device, per month basis thereafter while some vendors even offer completely 'free-for-life' tiers for a small number of devices.

The two types of mobile device management software

MDM comes in two distinct flavours:

  • Standalone MDM: These platforms focus on providing functionality related specifically to mobile device management, such as remote control, security and app management. Perfect for small to medium-sized organisations.
  • IT Management Suite: MDM software is often included as a single module within a suite of IT management tools. These may range from help desk ticketing to inventory control and are generally put to use in large enterprises.

Pros of MDM

Mobile device management is compelling for a number of reasons:

  • Allows a diverse range of mobile devices to coexist in harmony on your network.
  • Allows all devices to be set up securely - keeping confidential business data safe.
  • Encourages flexible working.
  • Saves time by avoiding the need to manually configure individual devices.
  • The more devices you have, the more cost-effective MDM becomes.

Cons of MDM

Mobile device management isn't perfect:

  • Implementing MDM doesn't mean that every security concern is catered for – negligence can be costly.
  • MDM is hampered if users do not adhere to your company policies on device usage.
  • Initial implementation can be time consuming, especially if you have multiple device types.
  • MDM can be costly if you fail to assess your needs (sometimes, mobile application management is more suitable).

Choose an MDM solution for your business

We've picked out five of the best MDM software applications for SMEs to help provide some focus for your research:

  1. AirWatch (from circa $4 per device per month): Includes container support for BYOD scenarios, an 'app catalogue' and all of the MDM features SMEs will need in a very cost-effective package.
  2. Jamf (free for up to three devices): One of the easiest MDM applications to get started with, Jamf offers an impressive array of features and a completely free tier for up to three devices, making it a no-brainer for micro businesses.
  3. SimpleMDM (30-day free trial then from $2.50 per device per month): Run a completely Apple-centric business? SimpleMDM may be the one for you, as it is designed specifically for iOS and macOS devices and features an attractive, engaging user interface.
  4. Manage Engine (free edition for small business which manages up to 25 devices): An impressive number of features (including asset and email management), plus a free version for the smallest businesses, make this a compelling option.
  5. Hexnode (30-day free trial then from $1 per device per month): This MDM solution promises to simplify mobile device management and offers a 30-day free trial for those who want to see exactly what it is made of. The feature list is impressive, as are the number of supported platforms.

What do I need to consider when choosing MDM applications?

Before committing to any MDM solution, think first about the devices you are supporting. You may have a range of devices accessing your network - from smartphones and tablets to more traditional PCs and laptops. If you operate in retail or hospitality, you may also have point of sale (POS) terminals connected to the network along with handheld ordering devices used by front of house staff.

Start by listing all the devices you currently have and those that you expect to appear in the future. Then, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who does each device belong to? The company or the individual?
  • What actions do the users typically carry out on their devices?
  • Are the devices taken off site?
  • What kind of content is accessed and stored on the devices?
  • Do you need to take into consideration devices not owned by the company or employees such as those belonging to contractors or customers?
  • What platforms do the devices use (i.e. iOS, Android, Windows)?
  • How will the usage of these devices develop in the future?

The answers to these questions, along with hands-on experience of the solutions available, will help you narrow down the most appropriate options available to you.

MAM - the alternative to MDM?

MAM (mobile applications management) enables you to shift the focus from the devices themselves to the user by dictating exactly which apps are permissible for use on the company network. This approach effectively treats every mobile device as insecure, but means the you have ultimate control over what enters your network, regardless of a device's origins.

If this sounds a bit 'Big Brother', don't worry - MAM is designed so it does not to interfere with a user's personal data or applications. Typically, MAM 'containerises' the business applications to prevent anything non-business related from entering your network.

MAM is often favoured by smaller businesses due to the lower capital investment required and the ease with which it can be deployed, although many organisations will employ a dual MDM/MAM system for ultimate control.

Controlling content with MDM

One of the most challenging aspects of MDM is easily overlooked and relates to the practice of controlling mobile device content.

Once devices are configured and granted access to a company network, employees begin using them, and that usually means content of some form is accessed, stored and shared. This is often where security holes can make themselves known, as the content itself is usually a mix of company documents, email and personal data.

Content is at its most vulnerable when accessed remotely and the most obvious example of this is email. As part of a solid MDM strategy, businesses must treat the transmission of email messages and attachments as a key component of mobile device management.

Attachments are of primary concern due to the way in which they are stored (these days, that's usually in the cloud). The challenge for IT departments is to come up with a solution that is both secure for the business yet transparent for the user. The answer lies in MDM and its ability to provide selective and encrypted methods of data transfer and storage for email attachments.

The danger of forgetting the user

When researching MDM software, keep user experience at the forefront of your mind. Although MDM is increasingly becoming a vital tool for business of all sizes, implementing something that is ultra-secure but which hampers users' ability to get the most from their devices is counterproductive.

An MDM solution that is difficult to set up or which cannot scale is unlikely to be supported by employees and will struggle to grow with your business. Thankfully, with free trial periods on offer, there are no excuses for not putting any solution through its paces before committing to roll out.

Conclusion

There was a time when mobile device management was considered the sole domain of large corporations. Not anymore. With such a vast array of hardware and operating systems on the market and the explosion on BYOD, failure to invest in MDM could be the difference between keeping your business data secure and creating an environment where stealing your critical information is easy.

What's more, MDM saves an inordinate amount of time. With most SMEs managing without a dedicated IT department, the ability to manage every device from one screen is a very compelling prospect for small business owners.

Mobile device management extends beyond the tools built for the job and it is likely that you will need to support the chosen MDM software solution with suitable training and IT policies covering data security, email, use of company devices and the internet amongst others.

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