"MDM & Cloud: A Natural Fit "
Above 20 years of experience developing enterprise applications and solutions, especially focused in cloud computing and mobility solutions.
The Changing World Today
Firstly, it's time for some of us to reset our acronym knowledge. Master data management seems to be losing the battle to Mobile device management, thanks to heavyweights like Apple and Google, who have created an appetite not seen previously in the adoption of new technology. It's almost impossible to read any newspaper without some article talking about the phenomenal growth experienced by these gadgets.
The twitter and blog world is abuzz with stats on growth numbers of iOS and Android devices. I won't quote any numbers to prove this point here since I believe it's a moot point and I doubt anyone would argue that the growth in adoption of smartphones / tablets is here to stay, at least until the next new innovation. So, move over Master Data Management and give way to the new MDM - Mobile Device Management.
Why has MDM come to the fore? A lot of people argue that Apple's innovation of the iPhone, followed by the iPad, and Google's answer with the android is what has caused this sudden interest within enterprises for this field. Initially, the iPhone was regarded as a consumer only device, that enterprises ignored for a while, hoping they would not get affected by this massive wave of adoption. However, with the introduction of iOS 4.0 providing some capabilities to do basic device management, enterprises sat up and took notice of this problem. The question that begs to be asked is:- is this a new problem or something that has existed but flying under the radar. Should enterprises only be worried about iPhones, iPads, and Android devices? The answer is probably not. If you look at it closely, this is only half the truth, and that's the reason it's even more important that Enterprises in India and the developing world understand this well. This problem may have been hitherto ignored since iPhones are a more elite possession. However, corporates need to realize that anyone with a Symbian device or a windows mobile phone could easily configure their phones to have corporate email delivered to their Nokia or Samsung phone’s while the IT department remains blissfully unaware.
I do not want to discount the influence that Apple and Google have had in bringing this problem front and center. Thanks to the leap in technology that has been achieved with iPhone's, iPad's and Android devices, the smartphone has indeed become "smart". Thanks to the amazing resolution, rich experience, and ease of using these devices, we now consider them as viable business devices, while some may think of them as essential. Added to this is the business brilliance of Steve Jobs - creating an entire ecosystem of application developers that led to the development of a host of applications, which is what makes this smart device an incredible productivity tool. Thus today, email is not the only killer app for the phone, which was probably the case a few years ago, and solved by installing BES servers and providing Blackberry's to employees. The fear in enterprises should not be limited only to the "hole" created in corporate email by Exchange Active Sync or Notes Domino / Traveler reaching these devices. Applications like DocumentsToGo and Dropbox allow employees to take a business document and send it from their PC's or laptops to their phone, and keep them in sync. On the other hand, early adopters are realizing that these devices increase the productivity of their employees and hence will soon start creating and developing custom applications that allow employees to continue working and being productive, wherever they are and whenever they can. The realization is finally dawning on the enterprises that they need to start thinking and treating these devices like laptops and desktops and create an entire lifecycle management program around them.
The Impact of "Consumerization"
As IT starts to recognize and realize that this is a problem, one thing to be aware and come to terms with is to not fall into the trap of solving every problem in the same way as desktop/laptop problems were. One big difference, that's well accepted in the industry, is the impact of "consumerization" in this day and age. Gone are the days where IT could create and manage "standard" images and use them to have a new laptop for an employee when they joined the company and have an annual "image refresh" program. The reality today, is that these devices will often be personal choices and preferences, and unless you lockdown your entire environment and infrastructure and put strict policies in place, you cannot control the type of device that has access to company email, data, and applications. We need to realize that the days of the "Wintel" monopoly are gone, consumers as well as enterprises today are spoilt for choice. Therefore, the best option is for IT to come to terms with this and ensure, for the business and the productivity of the employee, that they allow some sort of flexibility and freedom to the end user. Hence, the need to draw up an enforceable strategy of supporting multiple devices, across multiple OS and varied form factors.
The Cloud Delivery Model: A natural fit?
IT has realized that the influx of mobile devices in the corporate environment is a burning problem and the fire needs to be doused quickly, minimizing damage and exposure. The danger lies in doing this in too much of a hurry – just to satisfy the boss, or meet compliance requirements, and quickly close the "hole", and in the age old way. This should not be a comparison of product and evaluation based on feature lists and price factors.
Obviously, we have all read of the many reasons why cloud computing continues to make massive inroads into the corporate world. One of the advantages include the fact that it can be quick and easy to get it up and running. There are no requirements of server acquisition, software install, configuration etc which can take anywhere from days to weeks to months. Another one is that it's easily accessible globally to anyone, anywhere at any time. It is also a very well accepted model and everyone uses it – sometimes without realizing that they are in the cloud. There are obviously many more advantages of the cloud which is not the point of this debate and hence I'm not dwelling more on those or listing all of them. I wanted to add a few more arguments on why the cloud is a natural fit for handling mobile devices. This domain is probably one of the best use cases or scenarios that is apt for the cloud model.
Firstly, most of these devices are in an "always on" mode. They are always connected as soon as you power them on. But, rarely are they connected to the corporate network or vpn into your network. So, the advantage of installing server software within the corporate network does not really work in these cases.
Most importantly however is the fact that the pace and rate of innovation and changes continues at breakneck speed. Hardly a quarter goes by without a new version of an OS being released. And these are not minor service packs or patch releases, we are talking about major overhauls, changes, and new capabilities with every release. The plethora of devices with OS combinations is growing exponentially. As discussed above, the company is already losing the battle with an employee walking in every day with a new "image" and expecting to get access to their email, data, and apps.
If one sticks with the typical server based model that is implemented within the enterprise, are you going to upgrade your server software with every new, major release of every OS? This problem gets aggravated even more in countries like India, where Android seems to have captured the imagination more successfully than Apple has. The Android fragmentation issue, where each OEM has its own special version of the OS exacerbates this even more. Just imagine the nightmare and toll it will take on your staff to keep abreast of these, and continuously upgrading the servers. Why not leave this to a cloud based vendor and let them worry about upgrading their server with every new release?