The growth of diverse mobile devices in the enterprise is forcing IT managers to become more platform-agnostic in the way they manage their mobile applications and platforms, with web apps and cloud computing also driving this change.

This growth has major management implications, says Gartner analyst Phillip Redman. “As smartphones proliferate in the enterprise, companies are struggling to manage policy, security and support. However, enterprise mobile device management software is evolving to offer smartphone (and other device) support across a variety of platforms.”

He adds, “Although some of the vendors and products have been around for a long time, mobile device management (MDM) is a nascent market, and the vendors' offerings have little consistency. Many come from mobile messaging and security to support MDM, and, worldwide, there are more than 60 companies in this space.”

Among the “leaders and visionaries”, according to Gartner’s latest MDM Magic Quadrant report, are Good Technology, Sybase, AirWatch and MobileIron.

British engineering support firm Babcock recently replaced its BlackBerry enterprise system with Good Technology’s mobile applications and devices management and security suite, to cover its 27,000-strong global workforce.

Simon Parker, CIO of Babcock, says, “We recognise that our employees, more than ever before, are introducing a wider range of devices and platforms into the workplace. We needed an efficient and effective solution to meet that growing trend.” He adds that for Babcock, mobile working is essential because it supports top-tier global clients out in the field, in sectors such as defence, energy, telecoms, transport and education.

Babcock chose to replace its BlackBerry system with ‘Good for Enterprise’ for a number of reasons. Firstly, it features employee collaboration software, giving workers mobile ‘real-time’ access to email, calendar and contacts, and the ability to collaborate via a secure browser. Secondly, it supports a broader range of employee mobile devices than the previous system - including iOS and Android devices. Thirdly, it provided “rigorous” mobile enterprise security across multiple platforms; and lastly, it brought lower mobile management costs across the organisation, says Parker.

Securing mobile data

Single management suites, like Good Technology’s, can help to solve a common problem that arises when organisations have a wide variety of mobile platforms and operating systems: that of managing and securing information, particularly sensitive data, says Darren Gross, EMEA regional director for software vendor Centrify. (Centrify also manufactures a software system for centrally controlling, securing and auditing cross-platform mobile devices and systems.)

Gross says, “As organisations vary their approach to mobile devices as working tools, a cross-platform MDM solution has to have the flexibility to cover all operating systems and business procedures. Mobile vendors such as Apple, and to a similar degree Google and its partners, have created a level playing field by providing consistent MDM APIs for all vendors to utilise.”

He adds that the main benefit of managing a mobile estate using an on-premise, database-centric software system, is that it centralises the management of diverse mobile devices, which may include Mac OS and Android. It can also utilise existing management tools such as Microsoft Active Directory, and Group Policy-based device management.

Another benefit is that some of these systems, including Centrify’s DirectControl for Mobile, can be extended to the cloud, so mobiles can be managed from one location, providing a single sign-on for IT and end users, says Gross. This centralised approach can lower management costs, facilitate compliance, and increase security, he adds.

Cloud-based mobile management

Cloud-based mobile management offerings are an increasingly viable alternative to on-premise solutions. The Mansfield Group, one of the UK’s largest vehicle breakdown and recovery firms, recently deployed a cloud-based mobile apps system that uses IFS 360 Scheduling software, running on a Microsoft Windows Azure cloud service. Mansfield’s field operatives use vehicle-mounted Mobile Data Terminals from Navman, which they use for job messaging, navigation and vehicle tracking; and mobile phones for voice communication.

Mansfield has 300 staff and breakdown and recovery contracts with organisations including the Police, Highways Agency and Green Flag. Speedy ‘round-the-clock’ response times and high IT availability for mobile operatives are essential for Mansfield to provide its emergency services to customers.

Darrell Mansfield, chairman of The Mansfield Group, says the cloud computing approach providedsan operational scheduling system “extremely quickly”, and “the resilience that is built-in, and the fact that it all ran without problems from day one, clinched it for us.”

“We see a growing interest in cloud-based applications,” says, Dan Matthews, IFS’s CTO, which is significant as the firm has traditionally sold mobile apps that are operated by enterprises ‘on-premise’.

IT monitoring

As well as IT infrastructure considerations, the growth in mobile apps and platforms also has IT monitoring implications, argues Philipp Descovich, vice president EMEA at IT monitoring technology form Nimsoft.

“Open platforms, such as Android, can pose more of a threat than the closed platforms found on the Blackberry or iPhone. Your IT monitoring solution should enable more in-depth tracking and monitoring while making it easier for IT analysts to spot and contain potential threats,” he says.

Another issue is monitoring policy - and policy violations - across diverse platforms, says Descovich. “On the upside, IT monitoring can lead to more effective policy, based on the data collected. So if for example you see a sudden rise in access by a specific tablet and platform, you can at least understand the scope of the issue and whether it warrants a change in policy.”

Thirdly, application performance and Quality of Service (QoS) are critical factors that require monitoring, says Descovich. “As more critical business applications run in mobile environments the user expectation of availability and performance grows higher.” This is the case for cloud and SaaS environments, as well as middleware or client-side apps, so good mobile monitoring technologies will provide meaningful data to help systems analysts pinpoint potential causes of application issues, and resolve them more quickly, says Descovich.

Whilst new and diverse mobile devices bring greater freedom and efficiencies to employees, IT professionals should have no illusions about the range of management issues these mobile apps and platforms bring with them. These span asset tracking, software support, cloud-based management, security and policy enforcement, and QoS monitoring - but this may just be the start.