Managing Mobile Devices Effectively

Updated: July 21, 2008

Issue

Do you ever wonder if the increasing number of employees who use handheld devices containing sensitive company information is prompting IT managers to panic? Well, according to a report from ABI Research, mobile-device-management services are forecast to grow from $583 million in 2007 to more than $20 billion by 2013, for a compound annual growth rate of 80 percent. How's that for a resounding "yes"? By addressing concerns such policy development, procurement management and device/content services, mobile-device- management solutions promise to alleviate IT managers' concerns by securing, updating and managing employees' handheld devices.

Analysis

It's easy to understand the considerable burden that mobile devices place on an IT department. Just ask Stephen Drake, program director of mobile enterprise at research firm IDC. For starters, he said, "Many of the devices being used in businesses today are actually being brought in by individuals. As a result, organizations aren't necessarily aware of what's out there, what's being used by their employees and what information these employees are accessing."

But that's not all. In the past, high-priced PDAs were used only in the workplace and were left abandoned in office cubicles for evenings and weekends. But due to the increased popularity of flexible work arrangements and mobile devices' enhanced storage capabilities, that's no longer the case . These days, mobile devices travel everywhere and store everything from the babysitter's home address to last quarter's sales revenue. "There's this growing convergence of personal and professional usage on these devices," warned Drake.

Further complicating matters is the fact that many companies don't adhere to a comprehensive and uniform approach to purchasing mobile devices and carrier services. Said Drake, "With a lack of policies, it's just the wild, wild west. People are just signing up with any carrier, using any device they want and in many cases, gaining access to corporate services without any knowledge of IT."

Unfortunately, chaos isn't the only byproduct of poor mobile-device management. If you fear the damage done by lost or stolen laptops, consider this: Shipments of converged mobile devices in the U.S. are expected to increase from 25.6 million in 2008 to 44.4 million in 2011. That's an explosive number of devices at risk of being compromised.

"There's the capacity to keep tremendous amounts of proprietary information on a mobile device," said Drake. "So companies are really in jeopardy of some potential catastrophes."

Fortunately, mobile-device-management solutions from vendors including Novell, Nokia and Sybase can help. These tools enable IT managers to:

  • Centrally administer and enforce password policies, requiring that passwords be used on all devices at all times
  • Implement self-destruct or lockout capabilities for lost or stolen devices
  • Make data available on the network for centralized backup for compliance purposes
  • Manage device configurations across an entire organization from a central console to ensure standardized usage policies
  • Detect and remove user-installed applications
  • Run virus scans on devices and handle two-way IP packet filtering and inspection
  • Conduct real-time scanning of any and all files received by mobile devices

Recommendations

Of course, mobile-device-management software can't safeguard against any and all mishaps. But with the proper technology and policies in place, it may just help IT managers sleep more soundly.

For more information on IT security, visit the IT Security Resource Center. There, you'll find in-depth research, topical research briefs and advice from Focus Experts.

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