[posted on March 07, 2008] The blog owner speaks! I've decided to use this page to summarize my thoughts about the past, present, and possible future of mobile device management (MDM). Also note that I am not speaking on behalf on my employer (InnoPath); although my company's mission (and that of the competition) has obviously influenced this post.

It's early 2008, and the phone in your pocket is behaving more and more like your desktop computer. It has more bells, more whistles, more opportunities, and more problems than it did just a few years (or even just a few months!) ago. Which is why a company like Nokia insists that its employees refer to it not as a "Mobile Phone" but, rather, as a "Multimedia Computer" (link).

For this discussion, I will refer to it as a mobile device. A mobile device that, increasingly, needs to be managed. Managed by the OEM that ships the hardware, managed by the wireless carrier that provides the voice and data services, managed by the IT department that worries about the security of corporate data on the device, and managed by the subscriber that would like to feel in control of the end-to-end device experience. And, with this broad spectrum of needs, mobile device management (MDM) is born.

What does mobile device management allow us to do? In the recent past, mobile device management has focused on preventing problems. This has been achieved using firmware management and configuration management:
  • Firmware Management enables over-the-air updates of the firmware on a mobile device. These updates can fix defects as well as add new functionality to the device.
  • Configuration Management enables over-the-air configuration of the settings on a mobile device. This configuration can enable new services as well as customize existing services on the device.

And, today, mobile device management is evolving to allow us to do more. For those problems that can not be prevented, mobile device management allows us to react swiftly and effectively -- minimizing both costs and end-user pain.

In the consumer market, reactive MDM is achieved using configuration diagnostics and subscriber self care:
  • Configuration Diagnostics allows the actual settings on a device to be retrieved over-the-air and then compared to the expected settings. Any discrepancies can then be quickly inspected and corrected. Gone are the days of a Customer Service Representative (CSR) verbally walking a subscriber through the settings on her device.
  • Subscriber Self Care puts troubleshooting and problem solving tools into the hands of the end-user. Subscribers can update device firmware, configure new services, and diagnose existing services. The subscriber is empowered to manage her own device; and the CSRs are freed to focus their attention on more intractable customer care issues.

In the enterprise market, reactive MDM is more closely tied to putting the right software in the hands of the employee, at the right time, using software management:
  • Software Management enables over-the-air delivery, installation, update, activation/inactivation, and removal of software on a mobile device. Add-ons to basic software management functionality enable application inventory tracking, usage monitoring, and license enforcement.

And, ultimately, both the consumer and enterprise markets benefit from Security Management -- a solution that prevents security lapses and reacts to them quickly using anti-virus and firewall, lock and wipe, and backup and restore approaches.

In the near future, MDM will be proactive. On-device diagnostics solutions will be available to monitor, detect, report, and fix problems as they occur. Other solutions will be available to push greater intelligence and behavioral guidance out to the mobile devices themselves. Ultimately, the mobile device will adapt to the user and her environment seamlessly -- be it by shutting down non-critical applications when the battery runs low, by dynamically modifying device settings to optimize performance, or by automatically re-provisioning itself based on the current user, time of day, and/or geo-location.

So, to summarize:
In the recent past, MDM focused on preventing problems via firmware management and configuration management. Today, MDM supports more reactive modes of working via configuration diagnostics, subscriber self care, software management, and security management. In the near future, MDM will enable proactive approaches to management such as on-device diagnostics and other adaptive device behaviors.
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